Unseen Arts

Everywhere I turn, there’s some idea of who I am, how I’m supposed to be living my life, what I should be doing. It’s not the world shouting at me, but a constant whisper of what if. This question is a dangerous, often misleading one.

It can inspire and motivate, sure. I feel like we’re overwhelmed with an illusion of limitless potential. It’s equally uplifting and overwhelming. The crushing weight of expectation contrasts with hope’s natural buoyancy.

I don’t know how to balance these feelings, and most people my age don’t either. It seems that as we age (based on my older friends), the gravity of expectation does one of two things: either it grounds youthful fantasy in a healthier reality, or it drags you deep down into resentment and despair.

Of course, we’re all fighting the ups and downs of life. Whatever plateaus we experience never last long (and if they do, they often result from complacency). Whatever we do, the contentment never lasts long.

But it’s not a fear of change that consumes me anymore. I’ve made relative peace with the unknown. What worries me now is the intoxicating notion of hustle and grind. I’m worried about getting caught up in the idea of the thing versus its reality.

If you’re on social media (at all), you’ll see dream worlds and lives aplenty. Destinations and lifestyles beyond wildest imagining tempt with seemingly endless possibilities. I’m learning that this emphasis on destination neglects the dedication, drive, and discipline required to transform dreams into reality.

As a conflicted idealist and a practiced realist, I understand the joys and dangers of dreaming. My biggest challenge as a creative creature resides in the conversion, transformation, and construction of the path to my big ideas. There’s a reason it took me a year even to begin my novel.

Emotions aren’t a negative thing, nor an enemy to intellect and reason.

And there’s a reason (two years into the journey) that I’m nowhere near complete. Most of the time, this doesn’t irk me. But most of the time, I don’t have the space, desire, or energy to dwell on my creative goals. Too often, I’m overwhelmed by my daily responsibilities and commitments.

Giving in to that unrelenting desire to create means becoming a slave to my passions. It’s a realm of success best occupied by intentional hedonists and tortured artists (not that those are mutually exclusive). Emotions aren’t a negative thing, nor an enemy to intellect and reason, as some believe.

But there’s a delicate, precise balance to appreciating and indulging one’s passions—without becoming the wild untamed. You can’t capture and leash your passions lest the reins drag you along. Conversely, you’ll find it next to impossible to keep up with wild horses, wolves, a flock of birds running through your mind.

Instead, cultivate the patience needed to capture that one shot of a snow leopard. Even if it means sitting still for hours in the freezing snow, build the discipline that kind of opportunity demands. Life passes you by if you don’t work to hold onto it. If you’ve seen The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you’ll appreciate this attendance to wild abandon, I mean.

Of course, Walter’s denied his passions for years instead of chasing them around the world like the photographer in the movie. Too many people, myself included, feel as if they can spend their realities chasing dreams. But without putting in the hard work to get there, you’ll find yourself running out of steam.

But how do we avoid these meteoric moments? Finding out what it takes to defy gravity for more than a few seconds doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process and a long one at that.

Defying Gravity

As a kid, I kind of resented those motivational posters, especially this one. I think what irked me the most was the feeling of settling when you landed among the stars.

As an adult, I get that this poster’s trying to push for excellence while still leaving room for error and failure. I even embrace the lessons we can learn from failure, anticipated or not. What I detest about this statement is:

  1. Aiming for the heavens isn’t settling at all.
  2. Stars aren’t any old, average thing.
  3. If you miss the moon, appreciate the view from the stars. And then move on. Don’t get comfortable!
  4. Keep on trying for your money goal, learning from your mistakes.
  5. If you didn’t make it alone, get help. I don’t know of any single-manned mission to space.
  6. For heaven’s sake, you’re aiming skywards, so coming down is only natural.

You and your goal weren’t average from the start, so why act as if they were? This is what I mean when I say defying gravity. You’re allowed to aim high. I encourage it.

For those closest to me, you know I expect and demand you to push yourself. (Hell, a friend’s mom called me Demanda behind my back even in high school.) I this from selfish benevolence. I wish to surround myself with people who aspire higher. Being around people who aim for success means I’ll push myself more. That’s the selfish aspect.

Suppose I’m benefiting from excellent souls around me, our collective willpower functions as an accountability and safety net. We elevate each other, bearing one another aloft. When I expect people to aim high, it’s done in solidarity with a low tolerance for quitting.

Of course, standards for excellence vary by ability, person, and circumstance–something high school Demanda didn’t understand. If no one ever expects the most of you, how will you know where you’re destined to land?

You're a shining star, 
no matter who you are. 
Shining bright to see 
what you could truly be.

Earth, Wind, and Fire

But it’s not about shining bright to stand out. And it’s not about being the best you you can be because the world tells you that’s who to be. Stop buying into the false dreamscapes perpetuated on social media.

These golden moments sell you something that requires actual effort. The idealized slideshows online spark a desperate wanderlust, often based on escapist desires. It’s not a true wanderlust but that of those disillusioned by their daily lives.

It’s not that social media’s the problem any more than the people sharing their accomplished dreams. It’s that we don’t think about the endless consumption of daydreams. Feeding ourselves nothing but illusion makes working, trying, and living that much harder.

It makes us question the reality of lunar landings, making us comfortable with complacency. But this life’s too rich to slide through it, simply hoping for more. You must find what fuels your fire before you burn out.

Disengagement and Disruption

As Dr. Albert Ellis so eloquently put it, “Stop shoulding on yourself.” What does this mean? All of those times you thought, I should do this, or be like this, or feel like this were moments where you shat upon yourself. You came from a place of vulnerability and filled it with fear and self-doubt. You were too caught up in your identity and lost sight of how to defy gravity.

This is what Brené Brown calls disengagement, which she roughly defines as the gap between culture or “who we are” and strategy or “the game plan.” The only way to close this gap and believe in your ability to fly sky high is to “Align values with action.”

Now, I’m not necessarily one to let my identity define how I act. Identity is impactful in a group setting. For example, I am a Catholic. In a room of non-Catholics, my identity makes me stand out. In a roomful of Catholics, I blend. Identity etymologically means “the quality of being the same.” Mathematically it means, “a transformation that leaves an object unchanged.”

In essence, your culture—often a voluntary group identity—doesn’t change despite any transformations you undergo. I’m not sure how well this translates to people. I feel like there’s a litany of arguments to be had about the definition of identity, but I will say this: Feelings transform all the time, so how you feel about yourself today doesn’t define who you are tomorrow.

We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.

Brené Brown

I’m not entirely in agreement with this quote, but I will say that what we know about ourselves certainly affects what we believe we can do. If you don’t think yourself capable of defying gravity, you never will be. Even believing in your potential for big goals means knowing yourself enough to know that you can grow.

Remember how I said that reaching for the sky wasn’t an average goal? Expect to fall, a little or a lot. This depends on you and your self-awareness. If your game plan is to write a book by 2019, and you know you have poor time management, it makes sense to work on time management skills.

Building new habits and changing our scripts about who we are (i.e., Millennials, American, etc.) takes work. It’s not easy, and you have to be in for some discomfort. If you’re rescripting yourself, you’re disruptively engaging with a new narrative. That means things are changing, including your story about yourself. Stories die when static, as does life. So keep it moving and reach for those stars.

Don’t be afraid to fail, rather expect to do so. I’m talking about planning for the best with the worst in mind. Sure, we can’t predict the future, but we can be open to the uncertainties it brings into our lives. And if we’re not aiming for meteoric goals, we might make it to the moon.

Lunar landings are possible, but they remain a dream if you never take that first leap. Risking your comfort and complacency with a willing embrace of the unknown takes great daring. I hope you’re not okay with staying in the plateaus and lulls of life. I hope you dare to live your brief existence as bright as you can. I hope you dare to defy all the things that will weigh you down. Dare to dream, but even more, dare to make dreams real.


Thanks again for following my stories. As always, I hope they help you (or someone else in your life). I’ll keep trying to share the lessons I learn from life as best I can.

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Worth It

As kids, so many of us were told we could do anything, be anything. We could be anyone we wanted to be, as long as we dreamed, willed, and worked enough. The problem with thinking you can have anything is falling into the trap of wanting and believing you can have everything.

Why settle for less when you think you deserve anything in the world? That mindset sows the seeds for entitlement and dangerous ideas like wish fulfillment, the law of attraction, and manifesting your destiny.

Last I checked, you can’t just will something into existence unless you’ve got the power of a god. No amount of wishing, wanting, or dreaming makes this happen. Conversely, some of us think we can work ourselves into having everything we could ever want, too.

I (mostly) hate to break it to you, but that’s not true, either. Half the time, those of us slaving away sacrifice the wrong things. Or, we refuse to sacrifice the things needed for the everything we believe we deserve.

Sacrificing for your dreams is a good thing, if you’re doing it for the right reasons. Losing sleep, shedding blood, sweat, and tears—these things build empires and transform dreams into reality. If you don’t stop to think about the cost, you risk being the fool rushing in.

Losing sleep, shedding blood, sweat, and tears—these things build empires and transform dreams into reality.

There’s a reason the tortoise wins instead of the hare. It’s not that neither of them worked or put in the effort, but the tortoise made sacrifices the hare wasn’t willing to make. But the world tells us we can get ahead by living like the hare.

Getting ahead isn’t just about the destination; it’s about the journey on the way, too. If you take time to stop and smell the roses, you’re less likely to miss out on life. You can appreciate your sacrifices earlier and celebrate the small wins, too.

Those small wins are often underestimated. But even the greatest of the greats knows when to stop, take a deep breath, and enjoy the view (even if it’s not at the top quite yet). The key to getting the big wins is reminding yourself why your sacrifices matter.

Believe it or not, passion, motivation, and discipline run out. These are renewable resources, but what it takes to maintain them is beyond sheer willpower. We’re not hardwired to go and go and go without stopping.

We’re made for connection and if we don’t keep in touch with our loved ones, we’re likely to lose sight of our dreams and goals. We are more than our purpose. We’re immortal souls full of life and endless possibility.

It’s this same inherent infinity the world confuses with deserving anything and everything. So much of this life is spent untangling near-truth from actuality. And the best falsehoods are closest to the truth, those lies we tell ourselves most easily.

Making the time to see the truth is essential to reaching the top. Flying to Everest’s summit isn’t the same as putting in the months of hard work to get there. Having the discipline to reach the loftiest goals doesn’t happen overnight.

It takes time to build good habits and to keep ourselves motivated along the way. Part of that motivation comes from a healthy relationship with hope. If you’re having a hard time experiencing the faith needed to hope, you’re likely suffering from low motivation, too.

The best motivation comes from within ourselves. Extrinsic motivation is fleeting and often prey to others’ motives. When we introspect, it forces us to face truths we might otherwise avoid.

Internal reflection protects us from moving too fast or slow towards our goals. It forces us to question our purpose and the why of ourselves behind that purpose. It also guides us towards making the right sacrifices and forgoing that comfy afternoon nap (a la Aesop’s hare).

But when we don’t introspect, we look outside our souls (i.e., outside God) for inspiration. External motivators emphasize that in-the-moment, YOLO garbage. They’re limited to finite, material, short-lived satisfactions.

Spiritual Wealth

Material wealth doesn’t matter for our souls. You can’t hoard life’s intangibles (e.g., spiritual gifts) either. I guess that means it’s something to be shared.

Initially, I’d consider the divine inheritance God made for us all. He not only created heaven and earth for us but filled us with the ability to love and create. Our endless chances for redemption, give us the gift of eternal life.

This merely begins the gifts bestowed on us that we don’t have to earn. These include:

  • God’s unconditional, perpetual love;
  • His patience and forgiveness of our repeated mistakes;
  • His constant presence, so we’re never alone;
  • and His choice to offer up His only son (which technically counts as offering up himself, as God and Christ are one and the same).
  • Also, His choice to become flesh and walk among us.

I guess these are a few perks of having an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent being on your side. Keep in mind, these are aspects of spiritual wealth we don’t even work for. Remember, we’re also all granted the immortal parts of ourselves, our souls.

These parts of us have their own intrinsic value called dignity. Dignity is defined and discussed in-depth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), with particularly helpful cross-references. I’ve hyperlinked these texts to the Holy See for those of you who wish to research further.

These sections label seven articles of dignity: defining what it is, how we should express it, and why we have it. The ultimate goal of your dignity is that of fully devoted, lived, and expressed charity (i.e., God’s love).

“The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritual lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity”

(CCC 1700).

Unearned wealth aside, let’s discuss the aspects of spiritual wealth we must continually work toward. Dignity calls us to actively work on ourselves. Your soul must live, love, and create to its fullest expression. You’re not really living life to the fullest if you only do so for yourself. Your soul power (i.e. dignity) is the accumulation and dispersal of spiritual wealth.

If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve often attempted to hoard my spiritual wealth. My selfishness derives itself from a place of fear and mistrust.

Thinking about my past behavior, I posed a query to my friend, “Why are dragons always bad? Why can’t they be helpful, instead of monstrously selfish?”

She told me, “Dragons symbolize greed. They represent an obsessive need, of that same eternal hunger and thirst we all crave. Instead of seeking love, their desires are corrupted, thus their hoarding of material wealth. Tolkien’s dragons are an allegorical tool for this corruption of common desires (e.g. a need to feel loved or fulfilled).”

So I proposed becoming a dragon of friendship. I feel that the best-version-of-myself is present when I try to embody friendship as best I can. I want to get to a point where I’m willing to offer up my spiritual wealth by laying my life down for another without even thinking about it.

True friendship is all about giving and living servant-hearted. Why not amass an incorporeal amount of spiritual wealth to give it all away? Mostly, because you can’t. Also, you should be giving it away all the time, so you only ever have small amounts.

True friendship is all about giving and living servant-hearted.

If you could be an antithetical dragon of friendship, fire would spark impassioned blaze and warmth during despair and doubt. Talons would ward off foul gremlins of fear. Wings would carry friends to new adventures and belief in the not-so-impossible.

You wouldn’t be a beast slain by St. George but advance alongside him into battle, a fellow champion against wickedness. Make yourself into a creature of legend so that the real monsters are afraid to come out.


Thanks yet again for reading my thoughts on the inner workings of our storied lives. If you want to stay tuned for more content, sign up for email reminders!

Reignition

I started this blog (the first time round) back in August of 2018. I was coming off a long year and needed an outlet. At the time, I had a lot of stress and pain and general stuff to get out of. Writing helps me do that, and I boldly decided to venture where I never had before.

In place of journaling like I had (which I still maintained daily during this blog’s initial iteration), I felt like voicing my thoughts in a shareable space might benefit some. At the time, I realized my struggles more universal than initially thought. I chose to start this blog to challenge my writing skills and end my self-indulgent wallowing.

See below the original post (with just a few additional comments and ideas added. Most of this has somehow stayed relevant.

I boldly decided to venture where I never had before.

This was something I’d said I’d get to months ago, and now I finally am. There’s been lots of growth in my life, but I had to kind of burn down some things and start over. I realized that there was a lot of spiritual debris I needed to send up in smoke signals so God would know I needed some help. Sure, I could’ve just asked for it, but that would be the easy thing, right?

Metaphorical smoke signals aside, I’d rather talk in code than directly address the issues I had with myself. Looking back, I see the new kindling and the ashes of things I managed to burn. These ashes fueled a minor “phoenix” moment in which I discovered a need to reconnect with myself.

Funnily enough, a lot of this recognition started during Lent with a book called Until Today by Iyanla Vanzant. Each month of this devotional centers on a different spiritual growth aspect; I began in March with awareness. This was all way too perfectly timed to not be divine design (or providential), as I’ve come to realize since then.

At that point, I was no longer aware of several things wrong in my life. A few of these things are:

  • I was doing way too much. Not doing this anymore.
  • I was giving less effort in every aspect of my life (work, school, friendship, dating, family) Definitely stopped doing this. Made more time for God and myself.
  • I was not listening to God’s will. (Still stubbornly fighting Him every chance I get.)
  • I was not making the needed time for God. (Definitely working on this.)
  • I was stuck in a holding pattern and stagnating fast. NOPE. Not anymore.

All of these are things I can see with blinding clarity now. (This still holds true.) But that’s hindsight and heavenly light for ya; they really brighten up existential dark spots.

I won’t be cataloging every spark of growth or speck of my ashy past here today, but I’m sure it will come forth in future posts. Nor will all of my posts be so ‘fiery’ in language. I really wanted to get this out today, so my friends, family, and fellow online human beings get a sense of where I’m taking my life.

Maybe one day, this will be the stuff of some best-selling author. (Still, a dream yet to be made real, but closer than two years ago). We’ve all gotta start from the bottom of the ashy heap before our dreams rise in wispy, spiritual smoke signals.


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