No one is an island.

But there have been times in my life when I plunged into the water and swam as hard as I could, far away from the shore, wanting nothing more than that island. Leaving everyone, everything behind, determined to reach my destination. Then, out of breath, alone in deep water, with no land in sight, I would stop myself and wonder what to do next. A sinking feeling growing heavier inside me, of being lost — of despair.

A younger, more naïve version of me, would have concluded this lost-at-sea metaphor with, “And then I would see a boat and wave to it, the person in it would pull me onboard and row me back to shore. This is the person who has inspired me. The person who helped me to go back and strengthened my resolve to continue.” And that wouldn’t be so far from the truth, but the reality is not so cute.

Out of breath and alone in deep water, I would look around and there would be nothing there. No land, not a soul in sight. No one would come to rescue me. I had to make the difficult decision alone to swim back the direction I had come.

Every stroke going back, much harder than each one leaving. But if I ever lost my sense of direction or felt overwhelmed by fatigue, I would float for a moment and look up. I would look for birds and constellations to point the way back. Whenever I looked for them, they were there. These are the people who have inspired me. The people who have helped me along the way, these singing birds and shining stars.

Speaking from personal experience, the hardest work when it comes to self-improvement or change, has always fallen on the self. Try as they might, no one can do the hard work for you. I am also speaking as someone who has known the brutal impossibility of trying to change people who were not open to it, no matter how close they were to me. Communication and understanding are two-way streets. I am not saying you shouldn’t assert yourself or voice your opinion, I am in no way advocating complacency. But there are times when you have done all you can. When it comes down to it, there is only one place where you have any real power: within.

I often struggle with what I call “my drug of choice”: a tendency to fall into the fatal spiral of being a victim, of finger-pointing and blame-assigning, delving into the throes of misery and revenge-seeking. The world offers everything in the way of pain, hate and injustice, humans have continually proven wrong-doing has no limits and there is more than enough suffering to go around. But the world also offers much more if you look for it, though this is much easier said than done.

I often catch myself wasting so much time musing about a horrible experience or negative person, while hardly spending any time at all thinking about people who are actually worthy of it. That hardly seems fair. For my brief time here on earth, my precious attention should go to the people who deserve it. So whenever I catch myself making that swim into dark waters, I begin with a mental exercise that seems deceptively simple, I start thinking about a good person or experience that has inspired me along the way, no matter how small. This is my “swim back”, something that is especially difficult to do against the powerful waves of emotion. But as Sara Williams in her poem, The Old Astronomer, writes:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

With that in mind, this post kicks off a new category today called “Inspiration”. It would be impossible for me to build this website, to continue writing and sharing my ideas without acknowledging the people who have inspired me in a big way. The best teachers are those that empower you, they don’t diminish you or try to replace your inner voice with dogma. They encourage you to find your own way.

In my next post, coming up soon, I will write about the gracious man who has inspired the viewpoint and direction of this website. A brilliant star in the night. I look forward to sharing it with you!

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A soul back on solid ground. I thought about this for a long time: Should I hide the fact that this man is wearing only a Speedo? (maybe clip the photo or paint shorts on him) But I decided against it, I think his lack of clothes best demonstrates the feeling of being vulnerable in struggle.

Text and photos © M.P. Baecker and http://www.alightcircle.com 2017.