I wrote this post in December 2017 so a lot has changed since then. My sleep is sorted and my health challenges aren’t nearly as taxing as they were before (although I’m still a spoonie). However, some of my dreams still feel far away so re-reading this post brings me comfort. I hope it does for you as well.

It doesn’t happen to me often that I’m up most of the night, wide awake, unable to sleep, but it’s happening as I write this in my journal. The timing seems only fitting for the topic of this post, dreams.

The other day I pulled an oracle card called “The Retriever.” The Retriever is a fairy who retrieves that which is lost, including dreams. The Retriever will hold onto a dream until the person is ready to pick it up again. Drawing the card, I felt comforted. A sense of ease washed over me. I visualized my dreams as an orb off in the hinterlands, not going anywhere, just waiting patiently.

winter scene

This is kind of what I imagine the dream hinterland looking like. Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

So often we talk about our dreams as something to pursue, to constantly work toward, like they’re a marathon to train for. And while it’s true we must take action to turn our dreams into reality, The Retriever reminds me my dreams are ready and waiting for me when I can attend to them. I don’t have to worry about them disappearing like a soap bubble if I’m unable to focus on them at this very moment because they’re not going anywhere.

Right now, as you likely know, I’m unable to pursue my dreams to the degree I’d like. All I have the capacity for at this time is focusing on my health. I mean, clearly something is going on if I’m writing this post in the middle of the night instead of sleeping. While I could heap on further disappointment by telling myself my poor health is evidence my dreams will never come true, and I’ll be stuck here forever and always, I’m reminding myself my dreams are out in a field somewhere, earmarked for me.

My spiritual teacher says that “whatever happens in this universe of ours is nothing but an expression of Cosmic desire or Cosmic will … when a human desire and His desire coincide, then only does the human desire become fruitful, otherwise it is a sure failure.”

That’s a wordy way to convey divine timing, but I also think it’s a message that emphasizes I can focus on other things, like my health, knowing one day my desire will match the Cosmic desire, and my dreams will manifest. I would say I can’t wait, but that’s not true. I can wait and I will because my dreams are out there somewhere in the hinterlands with my name on them. There’s no rush. And that means I can take all the time I need.

I dream of a world where we trust our dreams are earmarked for us in a metaphorical hinterland. A world where we realize our dreams don’t disappear if we’re unable to focus on them when and how we’d like. A world where we have peace of mind, recognizing when we’re ready to retrieve our dreams from the hinterland, they’ll be there, waiting for us.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

On Saturday, I heard a delightful story from my hairstylist, Jen, about how she started working at the salon. She recently graduated from cosmetology school and was on the hunt for an apprenticeship because she wasn’t ready to strike out on her own as a full-fledged independent contractor.

While she searched, she continued to cut and style hair, including her friends and family. When Jen’s best friend went to the chiropractor one day, a woman came up to her and said, “I love your hair. Who did it?” The woman was, you guessed it, the owner of a hair salon. It turns out she’d been looking for an apprentice for two years!

I love this story because it reminds me what you’re looking for is looking for you. So often when it comes to searching for a job, a romantic partner, a literary agent, etc., we think it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack – arduous and nearly impossible. We think we’re the ones putting in all the effort and if we stop trying, we won’t get what we want. However, what if instead of a needle in a haystack, it’s like a needle and a magnet? The needle is attracted to the magnet and the magnet is attracted to the needle. They’re looking for each other.

Pins on a magnet

There’s a force that brings us together. Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Another story for you. Many years ago, before Doreen Virtue renounced all her work and ended the relationship with her publisher Hay House, she created an oracle card deck, which is a deck of cards with messages on it such as, “The angels are telling you to stand in your power,” or “Be kind to yourself today.” Hay House wanted the deck on the market right away but it usually takes an artist a year and a half to paint the 44 pictures needed to accompany the text of the oracle cards.

Doreen needed something immediately and had an image in mind of what she wanted. She went to her computer and said, “Angels, I need to find this artist but I need her to have 44 images available.” I’m not sure what she typed, but Doreen found an artist immediately with 44 images available and sent her a personal email.

On the artist’s end, she previously had high-paying jobs but they’d all dried up and she had to work for magazines doing art she didn’t enjoy. She made a resolution she would never again compromise on her artwork and would say “no” to all jobs unless they involved her true passions. Doreen contacted the artist within 20 days of her making that resolution with a big job to not only license her artwork but license 44 pieces of her artwork.

Why does this happen? Because attraction underpins the universe. When I say “attraction,” I don’t mean sexual attraction, I mean garden variety drawn together. My spiritual teacher says, “[T]he cause of this attraction is the imperative urge for self-preservation. It is only because of this urge for self-preservation that unit beings run after crude, subtle, or causal expressions. And this urge for self-preservation, too, arises due to the desire for happiness in every living being. So it is clear that behind every attraction between one entity and another, which we call by the name of káma, lies the pure desire for attaining happiness. Happiness is the ultimate desire of life.”

We look for one another because we want happiness. Jen wanted a job but the hair salon owner also wanted an apprentice. Doreen wanted an artist but the artist also wanted work. We aren’t solitary beings fumbling around in a forest hoping to run into what we’re looking for. We’re not searching for a needle in a haystack. No. It’s a two-way street. What we’re looking for is also looking for us like needles and magnets.

I dream of a world where we recognize we’re partnering with other people and with the universe in order to be happy. A world where we understand attraction is at the core of who we are. A world where we realize we aren’t needles and haystacks but instead needles and magnets that are inevitably drawn together.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

On Saturday I sat in the backseat of a car with a moon roof. I stared up at the sky and noticed a rainbow hidden in the clouds. I lowered my sunglasses because usually, that helps me see colors better but, in this case, I was surprised. Leaving my sunglasses on helped me more clearly see the rainbow. It blew my mind a little, to be honest.

We talk a lot about darkness and associate it with bad or evil things. Darkness is something to be scared of, it’s dangerous. But is that always true? Seeing this rainbow through my sunglasses reminded me sometimes darkness is illuminating. That happened for me this week not only with a rainbow but also with a better understanding of trauma.

When I first heard the news about antisemitic banners hanging over an LA freeway, my response was, “Where will I run?” That’s not rational or reasonable. No one was chasing me! Furthermore, I’ve never directly experienced antisemitism – no one has called me names for wearing a Jewish star or bullied me online. So where did this response come from? It’s a bodily memory from my ancestors.

rainbow cloud

The rainbow I saw wasn’t nearly this defined but you get an idea of what I saw. Photo by Mathias Reding on Unsplash

My maternal ancestors lived in Eastern Europe and even before the Holocaust, it wasn’t free of antisemitism. I don’t know much about them, but I do know about my grandparents – both of whom were Holocaust survivors. They both had horrific experiences, but I think my, “Where will I run?” response comes from my grandmother.

During World War II, she dug her way through the ground floor of a Lithuanian ghetto and escaped via a sewer line into the woods. In other words, she ran. To my surprise, when I encounter antisemitism in places I don’t expect, like an LA freeway, that same response shows up in me. My “lizard brain” gets activated. We all have this brain, it’s our limbic system, and it doesn’t respond to logic or reason. The limbic system scans all sensory inputs and responds in a fraction of a second by letting them into the cortex, the thinking part of the brain, or initiating the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response.

As trauma-therapist Resmaa Menakem writes in his book My Grandmother’s Hands, “This mechanism allows our lizard brain to override our thinking brain whenever it senses real or imagined danger. It blocks any information from reaching our thinking brain until after it has sent a message to fight, flee, or freeze.”

In other words, you can’t reason with your lizard brain. It just responds. What I hadn’t realized, and what I think many people also don’t understand, is that when it comes to big issues, the “isms” and “phobias” we’re facing right now, you can’t reason those away. It might work with some people to explain why racism is harmful to everybody, including white people, but if a white-bodied person feels fear or anger in their nervous system when they encounter a melanated body, logic goes out the window and racism continues.

leaf shadows

Shadows can offer a new perspective sometimes. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Similarly, emotional appeals will also only take you so far. Just after George Floyd’s murder, there was a surge of interest in antiracism. Emotions ran high and people purchased books and enrolled in classes more than they had before. But now, those classes and courses aren’t garnering as much interest or attention because emotion faded. But the body remembers. Menakem argues, “If we are to survive as a country, it is inside our bodies where this conflict will need to be resolved.”

After this week and experiencing my own version of alienation and othering, I agree. I can’t reason with people why antisemitic tropes are malarkey. I can’t emotionally convey why staying silent in the face of antisemitism is terrifying for me as a Jewish person. If you don’t get it, I can’t make you get it. What I can do though, is heal my own trauma.

When we do so we make room for growth in our nervous systems and that spreads. It’s like emotional contagion, but instead of emotion, something even more powerful. This isn’t a task relegated to oppressed groups, by the way. Every group has its own brand of trauma including white people. Responding with rage and aggression in the presence of an oppressed group is evidence of that.

Darkness revealed a lot to me this week. And not only a rainbow.

I dream of a world where we recognize logic and emotion only takes us so far. A world where we understand the power of trauma and create more space and peace within our nervous systems. A world where we confront our shadow to make the world a better place for ourselves and others. A world where we understand not only is light illuminating, so is the dark.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

I enrolled in a novel writing class and I confessed to a fellow writer that I feel a lot of pressure to put into practice everything I’m learning. I want my dialogue to conceal and reveal. I want to keep the reader guessing but not withhold too much. I want the plot to be engaging while also emotionally stirring. And I want to do all that perfectly in the first draft.

There aren’t many areas of my life where perfectionism continues to show up, but this is one of them. I care so much about the heroine’s journey novel I’m writing and that means I want to do this story justice. I want it to be the best book it can possibly be and so, hello perfectionism. When I shared this angst with my friend she said to me, “Give yourself the grace of being a newcomer,” and it felt like rubbing aloe vera on a sunburn.

Ahhhhh. Grace. Yes. I know people talk about writing terrible first drafts and understanding that’s a part of the process, but characterizing a draft as “terrible” is a judgment. There’s space for perfectionism because if you know a draft is terrible, that means there’s a certain standard you have for the draft that it’s currently not meeting. When I say to myself, “This draft is awful. God, I can’t believe I wrote this,” I’m judging my efforts and not giving myself grace.

child's drawing

What if I let myself learn like a child? Photo by Anima Visual on Unsplash

I’ve never taken a creative writing class before. I know nothing about novel writing. I didn’t get an MFA; I got a bachelor’s in journalism. Ask me to write an anecdotal lead and I can bang one out in a jiffy. Ask me to write a novel and I’m stumped. In other words, novel writing is completely new to me and by holding myself to a high standard, I’m stifling creativity. I’m not letting myself play around. I’m not extending compassion and forgiveness toward myself. In other words, I’m not treating myself like I treat other beginners.

When my young nieces and nephews draw me a picture, I don’t say, “This is terrible. The head is three times larger than the rest of the body.” No, I exclaim in delight and say, “Wow! Look at that!” because they’re young and they’re just learning how to draw. I want to encourage them to keep going because they enjoy it. I don’t have expectations my nieces and nephews will be famous visual artists by the age of 8. I’m letting them be kids. However, I don’t do that with adults, either myself or others. As adults, there’s an expectation that we are at least competent with whatever we’re doing. That means not sucking at surfing, or not playing the piano without striking the wrong key, regardless of how long we’ve taken lessons.

Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz says, “Culture is consumed with being an expert.” In fact, average levels of social perfectionism rose by about a third from 1989 to 2016 in a study of 41,000 college students. Is that number higher now? Probably.

We’re not giving ourselves the grace of being a newcomer. Even in the numerous articles I read on this topic, the writers said, “Let yourself fail,” or had titles with, “The case for being bad at something.” One even mentioned you’ll start off sucking but eventually, you’ll get better at crocheting or whatever your activity is. How about if we changed that narrative?

What if instead of proclaiming something we’re doing is good or bad, excellent or terrible, we let ourselves just be? What if we treated ourselves like small children, encouraging ourselves to keep learning and growing without judging the outcomes? I’d likely enjoy what I’m doing more. Maybe you would too.

I dream of a world where we approach new skills and hobbies with an open mind. A world where we leave judgment out of the equation as we learn something new. A world where we stop expecting we’ll be an expert at whatever we try. A world where we give ourselves the grace of being a newcomer.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

The Cycle of Luck

I keep thinking about the cycle of luck. If you take a snapshot of an event, it might initially seem like bad luck. But if you widen your lens, so to speak, that unlucky event can become lucky.

There’s a story about a Chinese farmer who used a stallion to till his fields. One day the stallion escaped into the hills. The farmer’s neighbors lamented his bad luck but he replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the stallion returned with a herd of horses from the hills. The neighbors rejoiced, congratulating the farmer on his good luck. He replied, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” The farmer’s son attempted to ride one of the wild horses but he fell off and broke his leg. Everyone exclaimed, “Oh no! What bad luck!” The farmer said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later, an army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied young man they found. Seeing the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they exempted him. Was it good luck or bad luck? Who knows!

four-leaf clover

Lucky, unlucky, who knows? Photo by Barbara Krysztofiak on Unsplash

I’m experiencing a bit of this bad luck-good luck cycle myself. About a year ago, I was in a car accident. I didn’t need to go to the hospital so it wasn’t major in that sense, but I was in acute pain for months, and then when the swelling in my neck, back, and shoulders subsided I needed physical therapy to regain range of motion and help build strength. I wouldn’t call being in a car accident “lucky.” I don’t think anyone would. But as a result of the car accident, I reached a personal injury settlement with the driver’s insurance company for thousands of dollars. With that money I was able to wipe out some of my debt so was the car accident a good thing?

At this snapshot in time, something good came from the bad, but what will I say another year from now? Unclear, but that’s my point. Life is filled with ceaseless ups and downs. We want to freeze time, to only experience “good” things but “good” things can turn into “bad” things. That dream job you landed? It’s so stressful it starts to affect your health and your relationships. The beautiful home you purchased? Infested with termites. Nothing is static, nothing stays the same, including luck.

According to my spiritual philosophy, the Sanskrit word for the universe is jagat, and jagat comes from the root verb meaning “to move.” My spiritual teacher says, “Here in the universe, nothing is stationary, nothing is fixed. Everything moves; that’s why this universe is called jagat. Movement is its dharma; movement is its innate characteristic.”

Nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts forever. Not good luck. Not bad luck. When I remember that, bad luck becomes easier to bear and good luck becomes more precious.

I dream of a world where we understand bad luck can turn into good luck and good luck can turn into bad luck. A world where we recognize nothing is stationary or fixed, including our circumstances. A world where we hold some perspective as the wheel of fortune keeps turning.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

October is a strange month in the Bay Area. I know in many parts of the U.S. the temperature is dipping, leaves are changing color, and people are eating soup for dinner. But in the Bay Area, October is a liminal month, straddling the line between summer and fall. Earlier this week I wore a t-shirt because the weather was so warm. Today I’m wearing a sweater because it’s foggy and slightly cold. However, later this month the temperature is expected to rise to the high 80s.

The temperature may designate summer but the sunlight spells fall. The light is changing, it’s getting darker earlier. Summer is gone and fall is coming, in that arena. However, because of the temperature, it feels like we’re not firmly in one season or the other. We’re in limbo. I don’t particularly enjoy limbo, whether that’s a season or a situation. I want to cross a threshold but how often does that happen? Isn’t most of life instead a transition? Aren’t we perpetually waiting for one thing to end and another to begin?

What I’m recognizing is the desire to be in one or the other doesn’t serve me. I’m not letting myself enjoy the current moment because I’m wishing things were different. This is akin to the “arrival fantasy.” The idea there will be a day when I have “arrived” in life. Said another way, it’s the “I’ll be happy when” myth. For instance, “I’ll be happy when it’s fall. I’ll be happy when I’m married. I’ll be happy when I get the promotion.” The “happy when” syndrome can last all the way until your deathbed.

fisherman

This picture will make sense as you keep reading. Photo by Michael Pfister on Unsplash

Clinical psychologist Dr. Natalia Peart says, “For decades, we’ve always thought that once we achieve success in our careers, then we’re supposed to get happy. And that once we get happy, we’re going to be fulfilled. That was the old path. So we’d ignore signs of burnout or the fact that our lives were so narrow because the assumption was that there would still be a reward of happiness. But that reward was always in the future. Happiness is now and being able to live in this moment, even in the harried, busy life that we live. You want to get up every day and know that there’s some level of meaning in the now – not two months or two years from now.”

One way we derive meaning in the now is by contending with death and recognizing even death doesn’t portend finality, but rather another beginning. This is well-captured in the story of the Skeleton Woman. Click the link for an animated version of the story, but the abbreviated version is this: A fisherman hooks a skeleton woman and not realizing she is caught on his line, tries to run from her. He bumps along the land with the woman on his tail and dives into his hovel thinking he’s safe. Alas, it is not so.

She is inside his home, limbs akimbo. In the candlelight, he takes pity on her, untangling her from his line, righting her limbs. Then he falls asleep and a tear leaks from the corner of his eye, which the Skeleton Woman drinks up thirstily. While he’s still sleeping, she pulls out his heart, holds it in her hand, and flesh is drummed back onto her bones. She becomes a human again. She returns his heart and then falls asleep next to him, and “that is how they awakened, wrapped one around the other, tangled from their night, in another way now, a good and lasting way.”

In order for us to thrive in relationships, our jobs, our everything, we must reckon with Lady Death, which is what the Skeleton Woman represents. We must act the way the fisherman does and welcome Lady Death into our homes, tend to her, make peace with her. Once we do that, there’s space for something new because every beginning is followed by an ending, which is followed by another beginning. And at the same time, instead of waiting for that new thing, as humans we are better served when we remember there is no arrival, there is no “happy when.” Like the fisherman untangling his line, living happens here, now, in limbo.

I dream of a world where we understand we’re always moving from one state to the next. A world where we recognize Lady Death is ever present even if we don’t acknowledge her, but she doesn’t represent the end, rather a new beginning. A world where we embrace the life/death/life cycle and get comfortable with transitions.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

As we’re finishing the Jewish High Holidays, I think it’s only fitting to share a concept I learned about recently. In Jewish mysticism, there’s an idea that in every generation 36 people hold up the world. These lamed-vavniks do not themselves know they are one of the 36 and no one else does either. What intrigues me about this concept is it makes each and every person important. Basically, you think of yourself as playing a part in keeping the world spinning and because you don’t know who else is a “righteous one,” you treat others the same.

I like this concept because it also flies in the face of our current reality. These days, there’s a perspective that if you’re not a celebrity, athlete, politician, or influencer, that you’re not worth paying attention to. In fact, a Bloomberg study found 98% of middle school and high school students would like to be a social media influencer. Some of them already are. Gone are the days of “doctor” and “lawyer” topping the career list for kids. Now they want followers. I understand, I want followers too, but the concept of lamed-vavniks says you can be powerful and important and nobody would know about it.

holding the globe

We hold up the world, metaphorically of course. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

In other words, even without being an influencer, maybe you already have influence. Elizabeth Gilbert tells a story about how years ago she was on the midtown cross-town bus in New York. It was in January with sleeting wind and rain during evening rush hour traffic. The bus moved at a crawl and people were not in good moods. When the bus reached 10th Ave, the driver made an announcement.

He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now nearing the Hudson River. I’m going to ask you to do me a favor. When you get off the bus, I’m going to hold out my hand. As you walk past me, I want you to drop your troubles into the palm of my hand. I’ll take your troubles for you, and when I drive past the river, I’ll throw them in. The reason I want to do this is because you all seem like you’ve had a bad day, and I don’t want you taking all your worries and sorrows home to your friends and families now. Because they deserve better than that, don’t they? So you just leave your troubles here with me to dispose of, and you all go have a wonderful night, OK?”

The entire bus erupted into laughter and sure enough, one by one the passengers exited the bus and dropped their troubles into the palm of the bus driver’s hand. They stepped off the bus with smiles on their faces.

We don’t know that bus driver’s name or anything about him, but we do know he made a difference that day. We know he directly influenced the people around him without sending a Tweet. It has me wondering, are you more important than you think you are? Are you someone who is holding up the world in your own way? You can’t know for sure so why not behave as if you are?

I dream of a world where we all understand the power we have to influence others and make a difference, even if we don’t have a million followers on Instagram. A world where we recognize sometimes the most ordinary-seeming person is capable of something extraordinary. A world where we behave as if each of us is holding up the world.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

The Seedlings We Are

For the past week or so, tension has been building in my nervous system. I colored with crayons the other day and instead of easy doodling, I scribbled with so much force, one of my crayons broke. Later in the week, my chiropractor touched my spine and without any conversation or prompting said, “When you go home you need to break some plates.” Just by touching my spine, she could sense the tension thrumming through me. I didn’t break any plates (who’s going to clean those up?) but I did punch some pillows and indulge in silent screaming.

It didn’t help.

Instead, the tension remains like a brand on my body. I keep trying to dissipate it, to go back to feeling peaceful, but maybe I’m not supposed to feel that way. In his book The 12 Stages of Healing, Donald Epstein writes, “When we have become disconnected from, or have denied the reality of, our internal power – or if we have not expressed our innate potential – we often become angry … [however, as healing progresses] the initial irritation, upset, or anger is gradually replaced by a deep sense of self-respect and the desire to truly honor who we are.”

seedlings

We are all seedlings. Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

I’m not past the anger, I’m still getting in touch with what all this tension is about, but I resonate with Epstein’s message about truly honoring who we are. As we enter into a new year according to the Jewish calendar, I feel the energy of change. I’m being transformed. Some might say I’m like a piece of coal being turned into a diamond, but that’s a myth. Diamonds are related to coal, but they’re the purer cousin so no, if you squeeze coal really, really hard, it will not become a diamond. When discussing this with a friend, she said a more apt metaphor is that of a seed.

To become a full-fledged plant, a seed exerts force in two directions. It pushes roots down into the ground but it also shoots up into the air. The force to push through a hard-shell casing is tremendous. It’s also miraculous, which I’m witnessing firsthand and in real time. I’m growing basil, cilantro, sage, and parsley from seeds. I planted these seeds, watered them daily, and then literally overnight, boom. Seedlings. While the process may have been gradual, for me as an observer of the process, it wasn’t that way at all.

I’ve written numerous times about feeling like a seed buried in dark, fertile soil, meaning life felt slow, quiet, perhaps even confusing. Right now, anyway, that’s no longer true. Instead, I identify with the seedling, bursting forth and experiencing something new. Because of the timing of all this tension, I wonder if it’s related to the novel writing class I’m taking. Meaning, I wonder if like the seeds, now that I’m giving myself the metaphorical nutrients to support the novel I’m working on, the magic and life force within me are busting out. I’m transforming. I want change to be easy, meaning less intense, but as I take my cues from nature, I realize transformation is the opposite.

This post is about me, but it’s also about everyone. Whether you celebrate the Jewish New Year or not, whether you’re experiencing a change of season temperature-wise or not, things are changing. It’s undeniable. And if you’re also feeling tense, I wonder if you can view it as a sign you, too, are transforming.

I dream of a world where we recognize change requires pressure and force. A world where we understand not all tension is bad. A world where we honor the cycles of our lives and support ourselves as we birth something new like the metaphorical seedlings we are.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

I am very attached to the fruits of my creative labors. I want my blogposts to become viral. I want the book I write to hit bestseller lists. I have very specific ideas about the trajectory of my creative efforts and boy do I get irritated when my ideas don’t match up with reality. It’s tough being an artist y’all. My ego can get in the way and when that happens, I have to remind myself what it means to be an artist.

As I’ve written before, my role as an artist is to establish a link between the finite and infinite, the mundane and the transcendental. In terms of creativity, it means I’m working with something more than myself because I am an instrument for my higher power. I am here to be of service to others through the art I create.

Talk to any artist and they’ll tell you at some time or another it felt like they were channeling something, that something moved through them. Indeed, Elizabeth Gilbert has a mega-popular video on creativity saying exactly that. If that’s true, and I believe it is, it means I’m an instrument for my higher power. I’m the violin, not the violinist. From that perspective, I’m not in control of the music the violinist plays, nor am I in control of how well the music is received. Or in my case, how well the writing is received.

paintbrushes

Each creative project has its own life. Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash

I don’t know why certain things are popular and others languish in obscurity, but also, I don’t know the mind of God. However, I’ve experienced enough synchronicity in my life to know I am a piece on God’s chessboard, that there is a greater intelligence at work. That means art too. I want to write a wildly popular book that lands me on the New York Times bestseller list, but maybe every book has its own purpose and trajectory, and sometimes that means only six people will read it.

Last year at this time I sent a romantic comedy novel to every literary agent I could find. When sending query letters didn’t work, I asked my sister to coach me on pitching to literary agents live. Because my pitches went so well, I thought for sure somebody would sign me. They didn’t.

After getting rejected by every single literary agent, I finally stopped and asked, “What was the purpose of this book?” I don’t think the romantic comedy will ever see the light of day because it’s not supposed to be published, at least not in its current form. That book served its purpose because it demonstrated I can write a full-length novel, something I didn’t think I was capable of, and it also taught me a lot. For instance, it showed me I don’t actually know what I’m doing when it comes to writing a novel, but I’d like to. I want to know how to structure a novel, what makes a scene work, what doesn’t, etc. Writing the romantic comedy helped me see I need to work on my craft. So I am. I enrolled in a UC Berkeley extension course called “Developing the Novel.”

It’s only when I remind myself not every book is meant to be a bestseller, that every thing I create has its own trajectory, that I feel at peace. Every book, every piece of art, has its own “life” to lead. What I’m creating does serve a purpose. It just may not be the one that I think initially.

I dream of a world where we realize we are not solely responsible for our creative successes or failures. A world where we recognize we are instruments for something greater than ourselves. A world where we take our egos out of the equation. A world where we understand every creative project has its own life to lead and we let creative pursuits be what they are.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

I learned something interesting recently. If people think they’re supposed to help someone else, they will. If they don’t think it’s their responsibility, they won’t help. There’s a widespread misconception floating around about the bystander effect, which is when people are less likely to intervene during emergencies when others are present and witnessing the same situation. In 1968, John Darley and Bibb Latané conducted an experiment that simulated an emergency.

Study participants were told they would be discussing their experiences in college with other participants. Each person was told either one, two, or five other participants would be chatting with them, but in separate rooms. The other “participants” were prerecorded voices that were played at points throughout the experiment. During the discussion, the person would hear one of the other “participants” call for help while having a seizure. The study measured the time it took for each participant to respond to the emergency.

The researchers found participants who believed they were speaking with one other person intervened at a much higher rate than those who believed others, in addition to themselves, were a part of the discussion. Psychologists have interpreted that to mean people freeze when they’re in a group because they think someone else will help instead of them. However, in 2015, Kenneth Brown at the University of Iowa gave a Tedx talk about how the bystander effect is complicated.

kindness. Pass it on

Kindness can spread. Photo by Mei-Ling Mirow on Unsplash

In his psychological studies, he found when subjects were told it was OK to help if something was wrong, that they wouldn’t ruin the study by doing so, the participants sprang into action when help was needed. There was no longer diffusion of responsibility and gone are the questions, “What does the researcher expect of me? What will happen if I step forward?” If it’s clear helping with something is what people are supposed to do, they do it.

This got me thinking about myself, naturally. I’m the type of person who will shout at a bus driver to wait for a fellow passenger. I don’t even think about it. It’s practically involuntary. On Saturday, I saw a man struggling with a small amp, a backpack, and a posterboard so I asked him if he needed any help (he did). Why do I do these things? Is it because I’m inherently a good person? No. I do these things because as a part of my spiritual practice, every morning upon awakening I say three oaths. One of them is I will help others according to my capacity.

By starting every morning with this thought in mind, I inherently believe it’s my responsibility to help out when and where I can. I haven’t conducted a study to determine whether other members of my spiritual community feel and act in the same way, but I can say for certain my family operates this way.

One time in Chicago my sister and I witnessed a man and woman fighting in the street perpendicular to us. Rosie stopped in her tracks and when I asked her why, she said, “I’m waiting to see if that woman needs help.” After my mother’s medical school graduation, we came upon a man lying in the street with a cut on his forehead who was semi-conscious. After we determined another bystander had already called 911, my mom ripped off her graduation gown and placed it over the top of him to keep the guy from going into shock. (She didn’t have any medical equipment on her so that’s all she could do.)

These are only a few of the incidents I know about. There are also the regular occurrences of help, like how my dad will do free tax work for certain clients, or my brother won’t charge for website design to help out a worthy person or cause. My brother and sister aren’t active members of my spiritual community, but they grew up in the same household I did where service was emphasized. It has me wondering what the world would be like if everyone saw it as their responsibility to help others according to their capacity.

Amelia Earhart says, “No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

I dream of a world where people are kinder to each other. A world where we understand in order for that to happen, we each must take responsibility for helping others to the best of our capacity. A world where we understand kindness is contagious and we do our part to pass it on.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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