[Listen to me read this reflection here]
Yesterday I found myself playing tourist in an ancient castle deep in the hills of Portugal. It was a summer home for a wealthy family centuries ago, imagined by a single person and built over twenty years.
Art, music, literature, dance and culture are all windows we get to step into someone else’s mind. Walking through the grounds felt like walking through the mind of the person who once owned this castle and originally designed it.
This particular mind was a playground full of bold, creative and unique ideas. From secret tunnels and passageways, to hidden symbols in every direction, to man-made caves and lakes, to thousands of imported trees and plants from every corner of the world, it was easy for me to get lost in this maze of his mind.
At one moment, I found myself standing in the balcony of a tiny tall tower overlooking this circus of conflicting design decisions, and feeling in awe of the boldness of his creativity and the fact that he manifested his ideas. Everything I was looking at, walking through, and hearing about, was developed and decided by one mind.
The grounds that I saw yesterday were truly inspiring to me. Not because of the architecture, the buildings, the nature or the views. It was that to imagine all of this, he had to be extremely comfortable with exploring the unknown.
Having been reminded of the realm of possibilities that exist, I feel excited to explore further the depths of my own imagination, and how to act on it. I feel less constrained.
With time and age, the brightness of the candle that is my imagination seems to have dimmed. With my innocence and naivety continuing to fade in the face of life experience, it seems I need new sources of inspiration to help keep my light bright. After walking through someone’s mind, as I did yesterday, I noticed my candle shining more brightly.
If I think too much about doing something, chances are that I will not do it. There are often more reasons to not do something than there are reasons to do something.
The question about how to lead my life also arises. My life has been conditioned by my mind. The driver’s seat is more often than not occupied by my mind, with my heart sitting in the back seat. However the moments when my heart takes control of the wheel are the moments when I am most human, most vulnerable and feel most alive.
Life would be quite boring if all I did was follow a formula. First this, then that, then that. Yes, it might feel safe and might in actuality be more safe. There is a part of me hard wired for survival, it is coded into my genes over millions of years for a reason. That part of me finds comfort in control.
There is another part of me though that craves curiosity, and following my bold ideas requires me to become even more comfortable with the unknown.
Near the castle is a scenic clifftop that overlooks the Atlantic ocean. It was once known as the ‘edge of the world’, as it is the most Western point in all of Europe. Looking out, I imagined back to a time when people believed that the world was flat and did not know that there was another side of the ocean.
Yet, despite not knowing what was ‘out there’, courageous Portuguese explorers built boats and sailed into the unknown, without any navigation system, and ended up discovering South America, India, China and countless more parts of the world.
Had they chosen to stay where they were, and do what felt safe and known, they would not have discovered the world beyond the world that they knew.
Back in the grounds, the tour I was on was about to enter a cave. The tour guide lit a tiny candle to lead us down the dark path. I wanted to experience this cave alone, to experiment with my limits. I instinctively let everyone else in the group go ahead of me, counted to ten, and then slowly walked into the cave.
Within seconds, I was questioning my instinct to stay back, as it was pitch black. I could not even see my hand when I raised it inches from my face and sounds seemed to be coming from every direction.
Continuing to walk, about one minute later, a moment of panic arose in the darkness. My mind began to run, my legs began to shake and my breath became shallow and fast. Aware of the reaction I was having, I was about to reach into my pocket to take out my phone and turn on its flashlight. Something from within stopped me from doing that though. I took a deep breath and decided to let my curiosity drive me over fear. My breadth began to normalize, my legs stopped shaking and my mind became present. Minutes later, a sliver of light appeared far ahead, and I let out a deep sigh.
Along my journey through life, there are many moments when fear arises, usually associated with some unknown. In those moments, I can choose to turn on my flashlight, I can turn back, I can ask for help, or I can continue down the path into the darkness, curious to discover what might be ahead. There is no right answer for every situation, and that is the fun of the unknown. I get to decide each time what to do when faced with it.