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starve the ego, feed the soul

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve; shot with Canon 70D

Living in a bustling city like Los Angeles, I often find that I have a deep desire to get out of it. Having been raised in a small farm town outside Philadelphia, it was nice to be able to live outside the city and still have the ability to visit it whenever I wanted. Living in the city, although amazing, has a small caveat of frequently wanting to get back in touch with those “outdoorsy” roots like I could in the Pine Barrens and at the beach.

Have you ever had an urge similar to the one I described above — that pressing need to get away? This past weekend I had one of those urges. I’ve always been a traveler, so the idea of staying in one place or situation for too long is like a death sentence to me if there’s nothing new and exciting developing. It’s not that I don’t also enjoy the moments of calm. I’m also a strong supporter and practicer of meditation because you can’t have all that exciting movement without the equal and opposite state of stillness. All that being said, however, I’m someone who craves movement and productivity, so the idea of remaining stationary, or settling down, for too long is the equivalent - to me - of being trapped. I’ve traveled to nine different countries in a fewer number of years, so I often consider that the need to get outdoors and back in touch with my roots is also tied to a never-ending need for exploration and a sense of wonder. I’ve written before that I am happiest when I am learning and discovering new things. Having found renewed strength and inner peace in life, I’m thankful for those moments when I feel restless because they’re the indicator that it’s time for me to explore and discover something new.

The world is an incredibly beautiful place. Have you ever heard the cliché “less is more?” I often grapple with the meaning of it because of varying definitions of what people view as “less.” I would hope that most people have a basic understanding of the warning “be careful that the things you own don’t own you.” We’re constantly on our phones or tablets, scrolling through social media, liking photos and posts, swiping right on potential romantic matches, or buying more stuff. I used to be guilty of all the same behaviors and sometimes still am (I like “liking” my friends’ posts, especially when they’ve succeeded in some way). But I recently asked myself a really important question: what was the last thing you did or the last thing you purchased that actually brought you joy? Now I didn’t mean momentary, fleeting happiness; I meant a purchase or experience that had fulfilled me in some way and felt rewarding.

What was the last thing you purchased that brought you joy? Looking around my apartment, I can now pick out the things I own that add to my life instead of distracting me and subtracting from it. For me, the things that bring me the most joy are my books, my camera, my musical instruments, a couple sporting equipment items, and my laptop (when using it as a tool for learning, writing, composing, or editing). Most other things could be eliminated from my life and would have no lasting negative effects. If someone, however, were to steal my camera or one of my books of Keats’ poetry, I would be devastated. That’s what it’s all about, right? The big picture? The things I own that bring me the most joy are the things that feed my soul.

Starve the ego, feed the soul. It’s the key to joy and inner-peace.

We lose track of our way sometimes because the world we live in is pretty ego-driven. Most people are motivated by money - a necessary evil - but the happiest people are motivated by love. And true love, in its simplest form, is joy. Children don’t light up when they see a Carousel because they see all the money it’s making; they get excited because for a short time, they get to ride their favorite animal around in a circle while looking at pretty lights and hearing delightful music. There’s no ego involved; the entire experience for a child on a Carousel is based only in soul. Want to truly understand joy? It’s what happens when a child smiles extra big each time the Merry-Go-Round reveals his other parent still waiting, waving back to him on the other side of the fence.

So is less really more? In a sense, yes. But, as with most things I’ve written in previous posts, it depends on your perspective. To me, now that I’ve redefined the things in my life in terms of what adds joy and what feeds my soul, I don’t want less. I want more. A friend of mine used to have an outstanding quote on one of her social media accounts that has stuck with me for a very long time. It read - “Never settle for less than you deserve because once you do, you’ll get even less than you settled for in the first place.” I once dated someone who told me I needed to lower my expectations, and for awhile, unfortunately, I listened to him and I did. And doing that made me a pretty unhappy person because, like my friend’s quote, I ended up settling for much less than I had originally agreed to settle for. I played a part in that enablement, allowing that person to affect me in that way. And that’s on me. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I’m grateful for that lesson because it showed me that I should have never lowered my expectations and I should never have settled. I have realized, retrospectively, that my expectations were not actually too high but that the person I was dating was lazy and too unfit to rise to those standards. I’m thankful for that entire experience because now that my perspective has shifted in life, I don’t agree with less is more. I now believe that less is less, and more is more.

If you want more out of life, you have to ask for it. If you fall back into old patterns of behavior or accept less by settling because of fear, you’ll never be able to receive more. I mentioned earlier that I had one of those urges to get out of LA this past weekend. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, which is usually the best kind of decision. I grabbed my camera equipment, hopped in my car, put on some music, and drove 75 miles to Lancaster, CA - which is not to be confused with Amish country Lancaster, PA. Every year I’ve lived in California I’ve heard about the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and how beautiful it is when the flowers are in bloom, which is precisely what led me to Lancaster.

It’s crazy to think that people relate “less is more” to a simpler way of life, usually in reference to nature and non-material, “spiritual” things. I took the photo above at the reserve, but nothing about that scene screams “less” to me. It screams out the exact opposite, actually. The poppies and the mountains and the beauty of the land - there’s nothing simple or “less” about it. Thinking about how the mountains erode and form different shapes, how the poppy seeds fight all sorts of elements just so they can bloom for a short period of time, or even how small we are as human beings in comparison to a mountain range, regardless of your system of beliefs, there is something innately spiritual about each of those examples. Honestly, it almost angers me to think that people consider that kind of beauty the “less” in “less is more” because of the relationship between materialism and spiritualism.

But that’s what it comes down to, right? Materialism: your ego. Spiritualism: your soul. Material things will help you get liked by others, but spiritual things will help you like yourself. And there’s nothing else in the world more important than your relationship with yourself. Want to become a better person and maybe make the world a slightly better place? Starve your ego. Feed your soul.

all in the golden afternoon

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