I was recently in Tikal, Guatemala. Home to ancient Mayan ruins, the ones you’ve seen in movies. Imagine pyramids jutting out of the jungle. Monkeys howling at sunrise. That’s the place. Had a rather magical experience I want to share.
I hope it serves you well.
“What’s it like being a nine year old girl?” I ask.
We’re in a Sushi joint in downtown Sebastabol. More Organic you-name-it stores per square foot than anywhere I’ve been. When you drive into town, a sign: Nuclear Free zone. This is the Vermont of California.
Her little brother gnaws happily on his chopsticks. She thinks for a moment, shrugs.
“I don’t know.”
I’m genuinely curious. I have zero frame of reference on the inner life of a little girl.
“Ok,” I say. “Is it different than when you were six?”
“Oh yes.” She smiles. “Definitely.”
No hesitation. “You’re taller and you know more stuff.”
Her mom looks at her, then at me. Kinda proud.
“Are you better off knowing more stuff?” I ask.
I’m not sure what my question actually means. Two glasses of wine with dinner will do that. To her credit, she noodles on it.
“Well,” she says, “I’m more scared of the monkey bars. I wasn’t when I was six.”
Her mom and I both stare at her.
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“I didn’t think back then. I just did it.”
“So being afraid, it comes from thinking?”
“I suppose,” she says. A pause. “Yes. Thinking too much.”
In Chemistry, you learn about electrons. The orbits they inhabit. But the most fascinating part is how they jump orbits when excited. One moment – excuse the blatant simplicity – happily circling at one level, doing their thing. Then instantaneously, a level above.
Poof. Disappear. Appear.
How it really happens, no one knows. But it happens. That is the important thing.
I think love is the most powerful force in nature. Quantum, molecular, human. It is the God particle. Just as light excites electrons to a new level, love does the same for us. It makes us better. Makes us shine. To focus on love for ourselves is the greatest thing we can do.
There is another level. An orbit we cannot reach on our own. One that only comes when we truly love and are loved by someone. No ego. Fear flung aside. Eye to eye, breath to breath, chest to chest, heartbeat to heartbeat. That, I think, is when we jump levels we didn’t even know existed.
Ah, but the fears we’ve spun around love. Of hearts being broken. Of giving up something. Of risk. The truth: yes, we do give up something. The irony: what we give up are the cords that tie us down.
Something I’ve learned: life is magic. But to experience magic, we must step up. Life requires it. And that is not a bad thing. It is the moment of commitment – and then surrendering to a love greater – that forges us. The energy for the jump, that is where it is born.
Take the risk.
I don’t know the exact time of my birth. 5 or 6 am. My mom remembers dawn breaking outside the window. When I press her for more, she gently reminds me that she was occupied at the time.
Fair enough, mom.
There I was, pulled out, all tiny and screaming. If you were to translate what I was shouting to the world, it’d probably be a rendition of WHAT THE FUCK?
I think of the little beings we arrive as, thrust into the arms of unprepared parents. Instructions manual, none. Amazing that they manage to raise us to go on to build rocketships and write mysteries and compose symphonies. You’d think that given the general silliness of our species, we’d have gone extinct a long time ago.
So, several dawns later, here I am. Sometimes still looking around, mumbling, “wtf?” And sometimes, struck with gratitude for the sheer beauty of it all.
Since time – heck, reality itself – is an illusion, I’m going to give my newborn self the manual I wish he’d be given. Close my eyes, reach out to him, and hand him this. No fluff. No theories. Only hard earned truths. The rest, he can color between the lines. Here goes…
– You are worthy. The sooner you accept that, the sooner life will zing.
– Break rules. The rewards greatly outnumber the punishments.
– Everything is an experience. In the now, that’s it.
– Good and bad are labels. Be with the experience, not the label.
– You are special. Treat yourself well.
– I repeat: you are fucking special. Don’t accept less from anyone.
– Love requires risk. It’s worth it.
– The more you close your heart, the more it gets broken. Funny how that works.
– Your mind is not far removed from a monkey. Don’t trust it.
– Your inner self, the quiet and deep part within, trust that.
– Every day, spend time in gratitude.
– Every day, create something.
– Love yourself. It works wonders.
I am a later version of you. Before I know it, there will be a later version of me. And before he knows it, no more. Poof, a wisp of stardust, gone. Leave behind a life that mattered. I love you.
When I die
I want you to climb the highest mountain you see.
As you set your ice axe upon the peak and plant your flag, think:
he should have done this.
When I die
I want you to call my mom each day
tell her how magical she is.
I want you to
make her smile.
And when you feel her happiness, you shall think:
He should have done this.
When I die
I want you to build a company
write a book
fly a plane, do loop de loops
play outside in the summer
as loud as you can
for no reason.
I want you to call every woman I’ve ever been with
and thank her for loving me
in that beautiful special way that only women can.
I want you to hold a new love close
her breath on your neck
eyelashes on your cheek
he should be doing this.
When I die
I want you to come to my funeral with a pickaxe
rip apart the coffin
pull me out
shake me awake
and point out life
and say: “Go! Do this.”
(I wrote this over two years ago, shortly after making a vow that changed my life. Amazing the difference a simple commitment makes over time. Still, a damn nice reminder…)
I haven’t written in a long while. No daily practice, no ten minutes a day. No true sentence. Why? Because I’m afraid. Afraid of going in deep, of digging out the truths, of what it takes to write that true thing again and again and again.
What I forgot was the result. The gift you return with. The diamond clutched in your sweaty hand. Your face covered with soot. Emerging from the cave. The glint in your eye. The knowing within.
The gift that transforms you and then, when you share it, those around you.
Instead, I hid. Hid with excuses. My life is going great, why screw with it? The first two books were enough, look at what they’ve done. I’m just a guy trying to figure his shit out, what do I know? Look at all that I’ve learned, why not just stick with practicing it and be satisfied?
The truth is that I’m no longer the person who wrote those books. I’m better. Much better. Because I wrote those books. Because I shared what I learned.
There’s a deeper truth: better is not good enough.
For the longest time I thought that as long as I didn’t slide back to the depth of where I’d been, that was success. Ah, monkey mind, you are clever.
The truth is that the experience of going within and sharing our gifts, they transform us. We can never go back to where we once were. We may slide, sure, but the person sliding is not the person who’d been down there before.
So the question to myself is: who am I now? And start from here, from this point. Dive in and find the new gifts. And be better from here.
And that’s what life – from my current understanding – really is: a journey of being better and better and better.
I’m cool with that.
(I cut this piece from Live Your Truth because it didn’t fit the narrative arc. It’s 100% true.)
I don’t remember when I first started reading James Altucher‘s blog, but I clearly remember the first time I met him. San Francisco, Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday. He and his wife, Claudia, were in town and we’d set up a breakfast meeting; them, myself, and a few others.
Except I didn’t show up.
I’d recovered from being sick, but my body still wasn’t at 100% yet. I’d often get tired and sleep and sleep. And that morning – one I’d been looking forward to, excited – I slept right through my alarm and the texts and the phone calls.
I don’t want to remember how I felt when I finally woke up, realizing I’d missed out on meeting someone I admired, someone whose written words had meant so much to me. And I’d put the meeting together, I’d made this happen, and now my friends got to meet him, talk to him, the guy behind the words, and I’d slept through it.
I sent him apologetic emails, groveling tweets. He responded kindly and rescheduled. This one, I was not going to miss.
We met at the lobby bar at the W downtown. I got there extra early, had a coffee, ate, and there he was through the revolving doors, in the flesh, and beautiful Claudia with him.
When you’ve admired someone’s work from afar, had conversations via email and comments on his blog, you wonder what they’ll be like in person. He’s the real deal. If you read his blog and close your eyes and imagine what he’d be like, you’re right – that’s him.
I was so excited, I talked and talked. I told him about being sick, about loving myself. He said immediately that I should write a book on it. I put the thought aside. He’d brought a few of his books as gifts and autographed them for me, including his latest, I Was Blind But Now I See. In it he wrote: Kamal, now you have to publish your book, James. He underlined “your.”
We met again five months later, this time in New York City. I was there for a day and he took the train in and we had breakfast together. Once again, he mentioned that I should write, follow the creative path inside me. I put it aside, but this time, a little less.
Few months later, I wrote the book and published it on Amazon’s kindle platform. James wrote a blog post on it and the book took off. I got emails from people all over, sharing with me the impact of the book. To say it was humbling is an understatement.
A month after, I was skyping with a friend, and decided to pull out one of the books James had given me, show her his autograph. I opened, I Was Blind But Now I See, showed her what he’d written – I’d forgotten that by now – and said, “Ooh, that’s cool,” continued talking, flipping through the book, the chapters I liked the most, to the back cover, then the page before the back cover.
“Look,” I said to her, “he must have used a print on demand service.” I was thinking about using one for a paperback version of my book. “It’s got the date of publishing on it.” It said this:
Made in the USA
24 September 2011
And then I stopped.
“What’s up?” my friend asked.
I ignored her. I knew that date. It was burned into my memory. It was the day when I couldn’t take it anymore and I stumbled over to my journal and wrote the vow to love myself. September 24, 2011
I pulled out my journal, flipped to it, and there it was. I’d dated it. I held them side by side, showed it to her.
“What’s the odds,” I said out loud.
1 in 365, I know. Maybe. If you factor in years, then odds get higher. But still, this isn’t about statistics. Not for me. I’ve learned to expect magic. What’s behind the magic, what causes it, I have theories on it. And that’s all they are, theories. But the magic, that is real.
Photons collide in the atmosphere in their lazy trip from the sun, butterflies flutter their wings in Tokyo, causing a thunderstorm in Ohio. A man in New York City writes a book, which then gets published in Lexington, Kentucky, while at the same time, another man in San Francisco, unable to take any more misery makes a vow that changes everything, and months later the author meets him, bringing along that book as a gift and writes in it that it is the man’s turn to publish a book, and months later, the man does, and a month later, the man sees the same exact date on the back of the book.
He smiles, accepting it. Who knows how the whole thing works? But he knows that there is magic.
He sits and writes it down. Somewhere, a butterfly flutters its wings…