Sometimes I can be a slow learner...
As most of my readers and friends know, I left my job at Donna Karan in the early fall of 2011. I closed up my apartment in Cambridge, put all of my possessions in a storage POD and, in the first week of January 2012, climbed aboard a container ship headed for Asia and went off to find some adventures.
And I did find some cool adventures.
I traveled across the Pacific Ocean on a ship with an all-male crew and no other tourists aboard. For three weeks they gave me free run of the ship, showed me their work and lives, shared stories over dinner; and I think they enjoyed the experience almost as much as I did.
I traveled into Myanmar in the week after Hillary Clinton opened diplomatic relations for the first time in fifty years. I got to witness the first hopeful moments of possibility; democracy returning to a ravaged land and people. I walked on the plain of Bagan, watching the stupas emerge into golden sunlight out of early morning mist, and I walked and swam on one of the most pristine beaches on the Bay of Bengal; where tourist hotels had not yet taken hold; where thousands of sand crabs danced with me, making intricate patterns in the sand, scurrying into their holes as I approached, climbing out again to taunt me after I had passed.
I rode a ferry down the Mekong River, a bus through the mountains of Laos; a long night of hairpin turns along unpaved, washboard roads amid the magical beauty of fires smoldering on the hillsides; the ecologically disastrous practice of burning the rice fields prior to planting takes place night and day all over Southeast Asia in the early spring leaving the daylight cloaked in eerie smoke. I clambered over tumbled stone amid the indescribable beauty of Angkor Wat and Ayuthaya; fallen cities, conquered again and again in endless wars, now being swallowed by jungle. I rode across continents in trains, made friends everywhere along the way, contracted a parasitic infection, was bitten by a stray dog in the marketplace, had rabies shots all over Thailand and Australia....
I sailed in Phuket, dove into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, sat in silence for seven days on a sunny plain in Portugal, swam naked on a deserted beach in the Algarve, had a romance with a Portuguese doctor in Lisbon, explored small museums to find the early works of favorite artists; Picasso, Dali, Gaudi and Miro; saw the footprints they left everywhere in the Basque and Catalan hillsides; attended classes at ISLA and attempted to learn perfect Castilian Spanish in Salamanca, the heart of Castile y Leon.
Definitely cool adventures!
Somewhere in the middle of that unforgettable year, sitting on a beach in southern Thailand, watching the sun rise over the incomparable Andaman Sea, I realized I was also trying to run away from myself....
Early one morning I woke just as the sky was beginning to lighten and climbed out of the mosquito-net cocoon in my thatched teak cabana, tied myself into a colorful sarong and wandered through the jungle down to the beach to watch the sunrise. All alone, I sat on the white sand, listening to the gentle susurration of ocean in a quiet bay. Ubiquitous mist overcast the beach and water: the sun rose gently, like a bright copper ghost from the mist. The air was a balmy 75 degrees. In short; it was perfect.
And then I noticed something. A sense of...disquiet? A sense of longing... yearning.... I was having 'if only' thoughts.
Really? On this beach? This morning? In the middle of this amazing odyssey? How can this be? What am I looking for? If complete contentment is not here, not now, then when? What will it take for me to be completely happy?
And that's when I realized that what I had been trying to run away from was my life. Somewhere, running in the background of my entire life there has always been a story about how things could be better if only.... If only I had more money, if only I had more love, if only I was more beautiful, if only I was smarter, more focused, more....if only I was somewhere else, doing something else... And in that moment my quest changed. It changed into a quest for something inside myself. Instead of running away from myself, I began to look within. I began to understand that no matter where in the world I go or what happens to me, the one thing that will never change is that I will be there and if happiness is possible it will not have anything to do with where I am or in what circumstances. It will be completely and only dependent on me; my own capacity for happiness and contentment. And with that understanding my life has changed. Completely. Forever.
The focus of my quest became different. Yes, I was still traveling and yes I still had plenty of adventures to come. And if you read my book, when I finish writing it, you can come along while I tell the tale about the rest of my travels. But this moment is for my manifesto so stories can wait.
Around that pivot point my world turned and my ongoing journey is about understanding the nature of happiness and the human quest for happiness. Because if we stop and think for a moment, we realize that what we are all searching for is happiness. When we look for love, security, power, adventure, creative expression, spiritual fulfillment; whatever it is we think we are seeking, it comes down to this; we want to be happy. And happiness is something within; not something somewhere...out there. All happiness happens in this moment; in the gap where we are not longing for something other than where we are right now.
Applying this insight to myself; to the problem of existence leads to basic questions: What is the good life? How does one live life in the moment and yet with purpose as opposed to just drifting? How does one - specifically me - live in flow and what constitutes happiness for me in the moment? And how do I apply this knowledge to the problem of living: where and how will I live, spend my time and earn a living while remaining present and true to the things that I know constitute happiness for myself?
More and more, the answer to these questions seem to boil down to two elements: Happiness is most present when one is in creative flow, and when helping or being of service to others. These are the moments in which we are least self-conscious, least lost in our thoughts about our regrets for the past or our longings for the future, and when we are least judgmental of others. And in these moments we are most authentic, most our true selves. And when we are authentic and in flow, we are absolutely, undeniably...cool.
And so, this is my manifesto: a dedication to living in happiness in this moment; to playing in the beautiful world, to having fun and to including as many other people in my happiness and play as possible. Because I must make a living in the world so I can eat, travel and have other adventures in the spirit of this manifesto, please welcome "Find Your Cool", a new venture dedicated to the practice of these ideas.
"Find Your Cool" is about style, self-discovery, and living the most authentic life possible. It is about living from the heart, expressing our creative gifts and learning to use them for the benefit of our fellow creatures. So; what will we do here? We will practice style, fashion, art, design, philosophy, and innovation; gently, kindly, with generosity, heart and passion. Most of all, we will have fun....
Welcome to "Find Your Cool"; a collaboration of artists, an incubator of creativity; a place of joy...