Lessons: Part 1

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A couple years before I left my country, I devoted myself to becoming a better person and learning everything I could about who I am and who I want to be.  I’m not going to sit here and talk to you about why you should try meditation (though I’d highly recommend it), but I do feel that it is my responsibility to share what I’ve realized with as many people as possible.  It’s hard to work these things into casual conversation in person, but this is one of the reasons I started this blog.  So if you like my pictures, videos, and stories, I think you should take a minute to hear what I have to say about everything.

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Now most of these lessons, I’d already read about and reflected on, but there is a massive difference between thinking about something and experiencing it for yourself.  Every single day, I’ve seen the teachings I’ve studied be tested and proven over and over and the feeling I get every time is excitement.  It’s like my own beliefs are being confirmed in front of my very eyes.  So if you’re reading this post, nodding your head, I urge you to log off our computer and start experiencing the world.  How?  It’s different for each person, but there’s always a step one.  My step one was buying a passport.  Try starting there.

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On the plane ride to London, I read a book called, “An Open Heart,” by the Dalai Lama and the main thing that stuck out to me was that he felt solely responsible for the happiness of others.  I understood that I was responsible for my own happiness, but the happiness of others seems like such an undertaking.  But I wanted to give it a try.  I decided that from here on out, I would try to help ease the suffering of every single person I met as well as increase their happiness.  I really tried my best and I hope it worked regardless of whether or not they knew I was doing it.  We’ll come back to that.

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One of the first things I noticed about London was that it was just like any other downtown area I’d been to before.  Everyone was in a hurry and smiling at someone on the subway made you look like a weirdo.  There was only one person on the street that even tried to talk to me without selling me something.  I learned not to put foreign places on a pedestal just because they’re different from where you are.  If you dream about going to London, then please go there, maybe I missed something.  But there’s a Starbucks on every corner and it’s impossible not to look at a billboard, advertisement, or some kind of commercial at any given moment.  No different from any other metropolitan area.

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Then I got to Inverness.  It’s the largest town in Northern Scotland, but it’s not even comparable to London.  Around every corner there was something I’d never seen before as well as a person willing to help.  I was staring at a hostel because it was the first one I’d ever seen and a man stopped walking, told me where a cheaper one was, and where the best and cheapest restaurant in town was.  Then we split ways.  I was walking around looking confused in an indoor shopping center and a woman with her son stopped me and asked if I needed anything.  I said I was looking for a restroom and she told me where the best (secret) one was and that I could ring a bell on the wall and someone would come open it for me.  And while I was resting by a bridge, a man named Woz stopped and asked me about Gautama, my backpack. He asked where I was going and what I was doing and he told me about how he was walking across the UK in support of cancer research.  We walked together and talked all the way back to the bus station.  Much smaller and less famous town; completely different experience.

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Portree: population 2,491.  By far, the largest town on the Isle of Skye.  Literally every person I passed on the street smiled and said ‘Hi’ to me.  Every single one.  In my time there about twenty people, like Lucie and Fabien, stopped their cars to give me a ride to wherever I needed to go.  Strangers like Richard and Sue Dorrell opened their homes to me and  fed me.  The first person I talked to literally seconds after getting off the bus, Charles, travelled with me for five days straight.  He’s not even from there.  I think it’s the vibe small town like that give off.  We waved at two girls from Germany on the street who had backpacks and we ended up talking to them all that evening and at breakfast the next morning.  Bus drivers, fellow passengers, roommates, librarians, bartenders, drunk people, innkeepers, I was never declined a smile followed by a full conversation if not multiple.  Sotiria, the Greek desk worker at the hostel stayed up until 3am talking about her hopes and dreams.  Good luck stopping me from going back there.

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Everybody’s heard some version of the phrase, “People are nicer in small towns,” but it was just as meaningless to me as it is to you until I saw and felt the difference myself.  That is a major lesson that has changed the way I look at the future.  I can’t believe it used to be my dream to live in New York City.  No way, man.  Give me a Scottish village any day.

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Charles taught me many things, but one of our first conversations was about our jobs.  He talked about his job at first describing it as “good pay” and “fine.”  He was “comfortable” and “content.”  Two words I’ve heard from so many people throughout my life and two words I have learned to run, no, sprint away from.  This came up again with my Aussie friend, Jordan.  It’s WAY too easy to be content with just going through the motions of life with a sort of glazed look on your face.  It’s easy.  Most people do it, and chances are, you’re probably most people.  Jordan had been doing it for the last seven years and ‘woke up’ one day and got himself a one-way ticket out of there.  Sound familiar?  It’s a scary feeling to realize that maybe everything you thought was the ‘right thing’ to do was wrong.  Maybe there are infinite things better than comfort and contentment and settling for anything less is a wrongdoing onto yourself.  Maybe that’s what the cause of a mid-life crisis is.

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Another life-changing realization I had during my time with Charles was that you need to get rid of expectations.  I know, another meaningless sentence, but let me explain.  Our first morning, we wanted to make it far from Portree and camp on “The Ridge.”  But it started rain storming and the wind was trying to throw us off the mountains.  He kept saying that we couldn’t camp in this, so he convinced me to go back to town to stay at an inn or something.  I had a choice.  I could have clung to my plans and gotten upset that we weren’t doing them, or I could have let go and stayed positive.  I thankfully knew to do the second, but I hadn’t experienced real life consequences of it yet.  And if I hadn’t gone with the flow, I wouldn’t have met Andrea and Elanie.  I wouldn’t have gone to the local pub that night with Charles and danced with a bunch of locals or received the hardest high-five of my life from a drunk girl named Ellie who could speak Gaelic.

The next day, we were determined to get to the Quirang and I tried hitchhiking for the first time.  Silver and Paulina were the first people to pull over and they said they were going to the Old Man of Storr.  I had a choice.  Cling to my plans or go with these nice people.  I let go again and ended up conquering the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever experienced.  I was euphoric at the end and it was worth all the rain, wind, slippery rocks, Gautama, and the constant uphill battle.  At the end of it, we were done and had to hitchhike to the nearby village of Flodigarry.  Our hostel had one of the most beautiful views I’d ever seen.

This occurred every day (except for the one time I just walked alone to the Quirang) and I’m so glad it did.  I was reminded of something someone told me: “Ride the wave instead of fighting it.  You’ll have a way better time.”  Like I said, kind of a meaningless idiom without the real life experience to back it, but hopefully my stories can give it some meaning to you.

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My favorite ‘meaningless idiom’ is “Live life to the fullest,” or, “Carpe Diem.”  We hear it so often, you can’t help but roll your eyes at the stupid kids that yell, “YOLO!” before giving themselves alcohol poisoning.  I get it.  I never thought about it either.  But one last thing from Charles.  He told me a story.  It was hard for him to convey in English, but it was so beautiful to me and I’d never heard it before.  It was about the Greek Kairos.

The Kairos is more of an idea than how the greeks used it, but it’s a great metaphor.  In a ‘supreme moment,’ the Kairos appear.  A moment of great change in time where you have to make a decision.  The Kairos are only visible to those open to them in these moments and they’re described as beautiful angels with long hair.  And if you’re lucky enough to see them, then you should reach out and grab on, or else you’ll miss your moment.  So as motivation whenever we were facing a challenge or he was telling me to go introduce myself to someone we would say, “Seize the Kairos!”  And we did.  It is now one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve learned.

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So let’s go back to that whole “happiness” thing.  You may have heard that there’s a difference between pleasure and happiness.  It’s so dangerous to confuse the two that it usually leads to addiction or dependency to the point of self-harm.  And harm is a no-no.  Pleasure is anything outside of yourself that brings you happiness.  This could be a person, place, or thing.  It’s not inherently wrong, but like I said, don’t confuse the two.  True happiness can only come from within.  And this scared me a little bit before I left.  Whenever something happened that would put my voyage to Skye in jeopardy, I panicked.  I felt like my happiness depended on going to Skye.  Which is a pleasure.  If happiness isn’t a person, place, or thing, I should be happy regardless of whether or not I went.  And yet I knew I would be devastated if I couldn’t go and would stay that way until I either went or died.  Or maybe I wouldn’t be.  Oh well.  I guess we’ll never know. 🙂

But after getting to Skye, I felt such relief.  I did it.  I accomplished the number one thing in life I wanted to do before I die.  The pressure was gone.  I felt free.  After realizing the importance of letting go of plans and expectations, I knew that it didn’t matter to me what happened or where I went next.  I could have gone on to Amsterdam, France, Germany, or home and I would be satisfied and happy.  It’s very freeing to be free of desire.  But maybe there is value in working toward a goal.  But keep it simple.  Like “Go to the Isle of Skye.”  When I ask anyone what they want to do in their lives, I hear people say things like, “Change the world,” or, “Help my family,” like those aren’t things we can do every day or aren’t vague, high concepts that don’t really have an attainable end.  So sorry if I sound like a broken record, but please take the time to sit down and figure out what that one thing is, then set out to accomplish step one.  Don’t feel discouraged if it’s hard to figure out what that is.  It took me months of thinking and research to realize mine.  But try not to confuse it with happiness.

Happiness isn’t a goal.  It’s a state of mind.

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Hey!  Speaking of happiness, you know what else is kind of a cool trick?  Making the decision to be happy.  Yes, happiness is a choice.  There’s a certain physicist in Edinburgh that would disagree with me, but from what I’ve experienced, it’s true.  You can wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and ask, “Do I want to be in a good mood today, or a bad mood?”  Try it.  I dare you.  Make the decision to be in a good one and start smiling.  If you find this impossible like I do on occasion, try meditating, or just being quiet for a while.  Count to 10, count to 100, and try again.  If you can’t control your own mind, it’s probably because something is clouding it.  Most likely something negative.  The silence helps calm your mind down to a more controllable state and it becomes easier to say, “I am happy,” and mean it.

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That little trick is something you can do to stay positive.  Do you consider yourself a positive person?  When?  When it’s a nice day out?  On payday?  When you’re with your loved ones?  Oh, cool.  Impressive.  What about the rough times?  What about when you start to feel alone?  Or when someone you care about exits your life?  “Staying positive” is absolutely meaningless if you can’t do it when things don’t go your way.  I’m talking about the absolute worst situations.  The kind of situation when you feel nothing but anger or misery.  When things are so bad it seems like it would be wrong for you to be positive or when you think, What kind of psychopath would be positive at a time like this? THAT’S when it is most important to be positive.  Otherwise it’s meaningless.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I failed at doing this in Oklahoma.  But this was one of my beliefs that was put to the test out here too.  I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of the wind and rain destroying my tent.  I could feel the sides bending too far and I felt some of the rain getting inside.  It was cold and I knew that there wasn’t another human being  anywhere near me for miles.  Talk about that alone-ness feeling creeping in.  At first, it was kind of a downer moment.  Like I was wondering if I was cut out to do this thing I set out and sacrificed everything in my life to do.  Fear and doubt.  Ick.  But then I thought, No.  This is awesome.

Somewhere, somebody’s stressing out about how much to tip their waiter.  Somewhere somebody’s worried about how much they’re going to get tipped.  Right now, somebody’s maxing out their credit card to fix their totaled car.  Somebody’s visiting their family in the hospital.  And I’m in a tent in the middle of the Isle of Skye.  This is exactly what I wanted.  And I couldn’t help but laugh at myself and all of a sudden, that fear and doubt went away and I went back to sleep.  Now it takes a certain amount of control over your own mind to be able to do this, but if you want to truly be a positive person, then maybe it’s time to start training your mind to be able to cope and stay in that positive place, no matter the situation.  Even if you’re the one in the hospital.  That’s when it’s most important.

Now hear me out, I get that sometimes it’s impossible to see the positive in some situations.  A couple years ago, I was fired from my management job at AMC Theaters, and I was devastated.  My family was devastated.  I was in the process of being transferred to the theater in Burbank, California.  It was one of the worst things that ever happened to me.  That job was my life.  My social life was AMC.  And just like that, it was gone forever.  The only thing I could do is feel sorry for myself and find another job as a server.  It wasn’t until months later that I heard about a video editor job at a local PR office.  I applied and scored my first job that I went to school for.  It was by far the best job I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t have applied for it or have even been looking for a job if I hadn’t been fired from AMC.  I would still be there clinging to this all-important security of a steady job.  So that situation, when I was at an all-time low and there was no way I could see the positivity in it, was really one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I just couldn’t see it.  I’ll always remember to have faith that there is positivity in every situation and I hope you do too.

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Ah, faith…  Reminds me of a conversation I had with Jordan from Australia on the bus to Edinburgh.  He read me a quote from George Jackson about having faith in yourself.  I forgot exactly how it went, but I remember the message.  It resonated with what I’d been saying to people that pray for the strength to get through whatever’s going on in their lives.  The people that do this are prideful in their faith, but I challenge them to take that faith even further.  Have faith that you were born with enough strength to endure anything that happens to you.  Have faith in yourself.

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Jordan also read a quote about abandoning fear and shyness.  Fear and shyness are what made me doubt my ability to talk to strangers on the street, on the bus, or in the pubs.  It made me think about my theory regarding dreams.  Why are dreams always more exciting than real life?  It’s because when we’re dreaming, we abandon alot of our fear.  When a giant, scary monster is destroying the town, what do we do in a dream?  We grow wings and fight it off with our superpowers.  When that girl you like approaches you in a dream, doesn’t it usually work out better than in real life?  Maybe it’s because you weren’t afraid to say that one thing you want to say to them.  And scientists have proven that the way the brain perceives dreams is no different from the way it perceives in waking state.  So instead of trying so hard to master lucid dreaming, why not try to live lucidly?  I’m trying to coin the phrase, “Live as if you’re dreaming.”    Abandon fear and shyness, have faith in yourself, and just go for it.  I guarantee your life will get much more exciting.

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One last thing regarding my talks with Jordan.  He helped me remember a handy flow chart that he shared with people he met in Edinburgh at a cafe.  It’s genius and should help you decide when to worry.

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And the last thing I wrote down in my journal is to always smile.  This seems kind of cheesy, I know, but it’s also very important.  Both Charles and Jordan told me that one of the things that made them approach me was that I smiled at them.  I smiled at everybody.  Part of being happy is smiling, but there’s more to it than that.  I’ve read too many suicide notes from people saying that if just one person smiled at them or treated them with kindness, it would have changed their mind.  To know that just one person gave enough of a crap about them to brighten their day just that little bit could save lives.  Have you ever been down and then your mood changed because a kind person on the street smiled at you?  It happened to me in London.  I was kind of angry because of how expensive everything was and it started raining.  I was tired, hungry, and all the hostels were sold out, but a girl on a bus was waving her arms out the window to catch my attention.  I looked at her and as the bus pulled away, she put on a huge grin and just waved.  I smiled, waved back, and laughed at how it almost felt like the universe sent that girl just to smile and wave at me.  My day got alot better after that.

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I know this was a long post and kind of preachy, but the whole point of this blog is to teach and inspire people.  Which reminds me, I now feel solely responsible for the happiness of every person that reads my blog, much like the book I read on the plane to London.  I hope that something I said or did helps you decide to make that change in your life that you’re afraid to commit to.  I helped Charles entertain the thought of quitting his job and getting away comfort and contentment.  I encouraged Jordan to continue down this intimidating path he’s walking and tried to give him some ideas on what to do once he’s made it to the states.  I gave Nicolas, the Belgian physicist, someone to talk to and intellectually debate with regarding the nature and origin of the universe.  Something he doesn’t get to do much while working at a hostel.  I taught Francesco, from Italy, and Rumy, from Estonia, how to play guitar.  I motivated Sotiria to start a blog in order to share her experiences with and inspire her family, then helped her make that blog.  Every single person I encounter, I make a conscious effort to help in some way by sharing my positivity.  And in return, they teach me without even realizing it.

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Before I go, let me share one last thing that I’m working on.  I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but alot of their teachings have helped me clear my mind and set myself down this path of positivity.  I’ve been so moved by it that a part of me wants to go to Asia and visit (maybe live at) a monastery for a while and truly hone my ability to stay positive and practice compassion.  I must admit, I am afraid to do it.  As much of a culture shock it was to come here, it would be ten-fold more challenging to make it there.  But Jordan encouraged me to do it, and one of the people that gave me a ride on the Isle of Skye told me a story that will haunt me until I actually do it myself.

Lucie and Fabien, from France, joined me and Charles at a pub in Portree the night after we met.  Lucie told me a story about how she went to Laos and walked up a mountain alone.  There was a monastery at the top.  A monk who had taken a vow of silence approached her, and by using gestures, invited her to meditate with him.  They sat in the forest and meditated for two hours.  She said when she came to, she felt very…peaceful.  She then encouraged me to follow that passion inside me that was pulling me to it.  The same passion that got me to the Isle of Skye.

Like I said in my last post, my journey might end in Germany because of money.  I have enough to get back home and that’s it.  I’ve applied for some jobs at the US military base out here, but if I don’t get hired there’s nothing else I can do.  When reading this, some of my friends asked for my Paypal account so they could donate to my travels.  This really hit me hard because it means that I am genuinely affecting people with my Story Adrift.  It’s so moving, I’m still getting emotional about it.  I was ashamed to ask for money, but they offered to help, and another thing to keep in mind is to never refuse help.  If you feel this way too, my Paypal email is zakmiller91@gmail.com .

I don’t expect anyone to donate, but I’ve been encouraged to share that.  I’m just glad someone took the time to read all of this.  We all have much still to learn, so let’s help each other get there.  I’ll try to make a post soon to let you guys know how my job search is going.  In the meantime, remember these things:

  • Get rid of expectations
  • People are nicer in small towns
  • Don’t settle for comfort or contentment
  • Happiness is a state of mind (not a person, place, or thing)
  • Have faith in yourself
  • Abandon fear and shyness
  • Seize the Kairos
  • Live lucidly
  • Always smile, even if you’re not happy
  • Never worry
  • The situations where things seem to be the worst are when it’s most important to stay positive.  Otherwise, it has no meaning

Good bye for now!  I love you all!

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3 thoughts on “Lessons: Part 1

  1. Love you and miss you buddy…..hello to Drew! Hugs!!!! I really enjoy your blog. Thank you for continuing it!!!

  2. I loved your lessons. You write very well.
    I would encourage you to go to the east sometime. Years ago I travelled overland to India (when you could go through Iran and Afghanistan). Sure India was a big culture shock but I soon adapted and loved it and the people. Some people find the culture and poverty hard to get used to but from what you have written I dont think you would have any problems either there or in other eastern countries. I would avoid muslim countries though. Most of the people in those countries are ok but there are a lot who are not so friendly. And once you get to most eastern countries your dollar will go much, much further.
    I have heard from your mother a little about your problems in Bulgaria but hope that those have not affected your positive attitude and hope that you managed to go with the flow and it will lead to learning new lessons. Often the greatest lessons are learned through difficulties.
    All the best for the future. I hope you add another entry here with maybe lessons part 2

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