The Influencers: Part I
Philosophers, authors, scientists — the thought leaders that made me, me.
There are particular moments in my life when a shift happened, and it was felt. From dark to light. Ignorance to understanding. These moments held weight. They corrected my course. They defined my future story. These are some of those moments…
2009 — Reading George Grey by Edgar Lee Masters
My high school literature class was assigned to read George Grey, a poem by Edgar Lee Masters. I was never the same. I remember it being around the new year and my attitude to taking risks, putting myself out there, and “going for it” completely changed. It was as if I was suddenly aware of my mortality, as a 16 year old girl.
George Grey by Edgar Lee Masters
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me--
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire--
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
2014 — Discovering author and philosopher Alan Watts
It was an average day at university, spending the majority of my time in the computer lab at school to complete class assignments. My routine was to go to Starbucks, get a small Americano, camp out at the computer lab to get my work done whilst jamming out to mixes by DJ Sam Feldt on Soundcloud. Feldt is a unique DJ because most of his mixes begin with some sort of sound excerpt — from a movie such as Lost in Translation, from an inspirational speech of Tony Robbins, or in the case of the DJ mix that changed my life, a cut from an Alan Watts Speech. I plug in my headphones and go about my work but these words were searing into me —
“What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like? So I always ask the question — what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Well its so amazing as a result of our kind of educational system crowds of students say, ‘Well, we’d like to painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers but as everybody knows we can’t earn any money that way.’ Another person says ‘Well I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses’. When we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do I say, ‘You do that and forget the money.’ Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You will be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
Listen to the full mix here.
2014 — Happening upon Henry David Thoreau
I read the book, Walden, by Henry David Thoreau my senior year of college. This book came into my life at the perfect time and Thoreau’s words really gave me a special kind of confidence to go out into the world —
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”
“Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered.”
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours…If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
2016 — Thich Nhat Hanh and The Miracle of Mindfulness
Such profound, yet simple concepts outlined in this short & sweet book by Thich Nhat Hanh. He uses ordinary acts as examples, such as washing the dishes, which allowed the elusive concept of ‘mindfulness’ to really hit home for me.
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
Find The Miracle of Mindfulness free PDF download here.
2015 — Brain Pickings by Maria Popova
Described as “An inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more.”
Each week Maria Popova curates a spectacular smorgasbord of wisdom pulled from all corners of life, and delivers it right to your email inbox. During an extensive trip around-the-world I embarked on after graduating college, these emails were a weekly treat that helped me come back home to myself. From Jack Kerouac to Carl Sagan, the influence and wisdom shared is endless. Recently, on an extended trip in Asia, my boyfriend and travel partner ended our relationship while on foreign soil. I found myself alone in a strange world, heartbroken and hurting. I woke up at about 4am the night of the breakup and to help ease the experience of wading through the physical, mental, and emotional pain of the loss I was going through, I pulled out my phone, opened my gmail app, and typed in the search bar: brain pickings love. I then proceeded to read all Popova’s brain pickings on the topic of love.
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
— Khalil Gibran
As each moment passed my heart opened, my mind eased, and I was able to shift my perspective from the small mind of hurt, to my big mind — to see the privilege of heartbreak — which I wrote briefly about here.
Sign up for the free, interestingness of Brain Pickings here.