And 4+ more quotes to celebrate 4 years of GiveLiveExplore and attempting to live deliberately.
There’s a Henry David Thoreau quote that has narrated my journey since I began wandering – physically, professionally, philosophically – four years ago.
The quote helped inspire the tagline for this site: “Tales from a Deliberate Journeyer.” From Walden, it’s a sentiment that I believe sums up the motivation behind many women and men’s decision to heed their call to adventure. Mine included.
A couple months ago Thoreau’s words magically entered my periphery once again, but in an unlikely place: my daily commute in London. I didn’t notice them at first. Walked straight past. Alone in the subway hall, I back-peddled slowly, leaned my head to the side and breathed a curious “Huh.”
Talk about coincidences.
As I snapped that picture I was reminded that it’s the 4-year anniversary of the birth this blog. 4 years! 1,460 suns ago I started fumbling my way to live a more deliberate life and began documenting the journey for any and all to witness along the way.
Given the fortuitous encounter with the quote and the anniversary of this blog, I figured today would be as good a day as any to reflect on the past four years of GiveLiveExplore and my own journey to the woods.
Entering the woods.
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.
You are not on your own path.”
It was 2012, I was 27, and I made what might have been the first honest-to-god deliberate choice in my life. Although I didn’t quite enter the woods like Thoreau did, I did press pause on a more conventional path in order to enter my own woods: Iceland. And subsequently, 6 more meandering months through northern and eastern Europe. I self-anointed myself a “deliberate journeyer” and went merrily on my way.
This blog was born in tandem to document that journey, but quickly became obvious what it really was: an open canvas to acknowledge and spew out my unanswered existential questions. More specifically I was admitting:
- I hadn’t a clue who I was,
- What I wanted my life to be about,
- Where/how the hell to start figuring 1 and 2 out, and
- That these questions seemed like a pretty integral part of being a human and, maybe, working on these an important and necessary endeavor.
Similar questions I imagine Thoreau aimed to pierce as he buggered off to the woods. Questions pyramiding to Mary Oliver’s ultimate question:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Jesus, Mary! Words to crack the hardest heart and shake the stiffest soul.
Had I been truly deliberate with my one wild and precious life?
It didn’t feel like it.
And what does it even mean to live deliberately?
I hadn’t a clue. But it felt high time to attempt to figure that out.
In the deep.
“Do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.” –Ramakishna
In my woods I began searching for something I couldn’t yet define but felt like a 20 pound weight in my belly. That 7-month trip morphed into a pilgrimage, and I, the pilgrim. It felt strangely spiritual. The more I sought, the more I found I didn’t know. The more I knew I didn’t know, the more I sought.
I was high on adventure. I was scared shitless. Embarking on that trip set me on a course I couldn’t jump off if I tried. It felt dangerous, like an irrevocable oneway ticket into an underworld. I’d be smart to heed Ramakishna’s warning and stop the search. But my hair was raging. Was I seeking illumination? Enlightenment? What the hell am I signing myself up for? Is anyone else ablaze or is it just me? And am I really up for this?
I danced with emotions and mental states I’d never really touched before – loneliness, grief, anxiety, maybe even depression. A bunch of loves and losses cracked my heart open wider and deeper than ever before. I’ve talked about some of the details on various podcasts here and there, but I started to understand Ramakishna’s point: the seeker’s journey isn’t for the faint hearted.
That trip in 2012 ended. Four years have passed. Now I’m 32.
A temporary pause on life became a permanent reset. I live an exciting new life in London. I travel frequently but it’s different. I sleep in the same bed most nights. I have a sense of stability and home that I haven’t known in years. My work is centered around helping more people make their own Escape into more deliberate and fulfilling working lives. My writing plays second fiddle to that work but aspires to become concert master. I feel a familiar pull, not to wander for evermore, but to take what gifts I have discovered and bring them forth, with force, into the world.
Of course, as I type this, a gang of uninvited questions bang through the front door of my fragile head.
Have these four years been spent fruitfully? Or did I waste them? Am I any wiser? And once again – am I spending my time working on my life, or merely in it? Am I any more deliberate than when I started? Am I heading the right way? Every little thing I do – am I doing it for soulful or spiritual growth, or am I chasing more superficial and less important pursuits? Aren’t these I just the same exact questions I started asking years ago when I began my wandering?
I know the honest answer to these, but a dose of Paulo Coehlo still helps:
“But then my universe doesn’t really help, it keeps expanding and won’t allow me to know it entirely.”
Ah, that’s right! My universe expanded. It’s forever expanding. The goalposts shifted. They’re always shifting.
Maybe to live deliberately paints an inaccurate picture of arrival. How do you arrive at the end of an ever-expanding expanse?
Crumbs of bread.
“Just wait, Gretel, until the moon rises, and then we shall see the crumbs of bread which I have strewn about, they will show us our way home again.” –Hansel, Hansel and Gretel, Brothers Grimm
Just as quickly as I spotted Thoreau in the Tube, he disappeared. Vanished. Replaced by whisky or tanning oil or a J-culture appreciation festival. But the bread crumbs he dropped did not go unnoticed.
Maybe the real question is this: How can we remind ourselves to continue to live deliberately? When we find ourselves off track (which we inevitably will), how can we quickly and urgently get back?
From another book I read in 2012, this one by Kamal Ravikant:
“This is a practice. You don’t go to the gym once and consider yourself done. Same here. Meditation is a practice. Working out is a practice. Loving yourself, perhaps the most important of all, is a practice.”
He’s talking about “loving yourself” but I believe the same applies here.
It turns out that life is one long never ending pilgrimage. There is no arrival; it’s a constant arrival. We depart and arrive each and every day. To practice being deliberate with this one wild and precious life? Perhaps the most important practice of all.
Maybe to continuously become deliberate, our task, our mission, our obsession becomes to pay attention to the clues. To listen, to notice, to chase them. To use them to deliberately journey back to our own center.
To be deliberate is to notice the bread crumbs leading you back to yourself.
To be deliberate is to listen to the clues staring you in the face.
To be deliberate is to remember to be deliberate.
And when you remember that you’ve forgotten to be deliberate yet again? To open your eyes and heart to the world asking you to follow the bread crumbs back to live deliberately once again.
A big THANK YOU to everyone who has joined me over the past 4 years.
My intent with writing publicly 4 years ago was to be an open kimono. An accessible guy honestly trying to figure this stuff out. I’ve enjoyed some successes, failures, a fair share of missteps and getting plenty lost along the way.
I guess I write because I’m human and I can. I’m human because, perplexed and in awe by the human condition, I use a medium like writing to attempt to make sense and meaning in being human. And maybe the fact that I struggle to be satisfied with my life as a purely deliberate one means that perhaps I’m a perfect candidate to continue write about this.
My hair is still ablaze and I’m not ready to Thoreau in the towel yet.
From Bojo and Katrine and mom and dad (my first 4 subscribers)…to Mariah and Luis and Latha and Megha (my 4 most recent subscribers), and everyone in between. To Lea and Christopher, all of my family, friends and comrades who have stuck with me as I’ve continued to transform and evolve from the Matthew you knew to the one I am today. To Mel, who knows me better than I know myself and whose love and support is heartbreakingly powerful. And thank you to my main man Thoreau for the clues.
Thank you all for being here and reminding me to keep going.
To another 4 years!
P.S. I quite literally entered the woods for 11 days, completely offline and off the grid, and emerged this week. Look out for musings from that.
P.P.S. For a deeper dive into why I started GiveLiveExplore, check out this 2-year anniversary post.