How Death Can Force Us to Face Our Truths

When mortality makes a presence in our lives- be it from someone close to us or through someone we merely shared a few moments with- it brings forth some profound truths we may be ignoring.

A Maosit rebel takes a moment to pose for the camera in a remote village in the mountains of Nepal. Image by Crystal Street 2006

When faced with mortality at a young age- some tend to embrace a fearless “in the moment” perspective on life. We realize that the brevity of life is real and that “tomorrow is guaranteed to no one”. Such a truth weighs on every major decision and guides us through our daily lives.

We are comforted by the fact that if tomorrow never came, we’d have no regrets. Nothing was left undone, no joy was left to chance, no love was left untested and no moment was wasted in vein.

Or at least that’s the core truth that death can give us. It can bring these little beliefs to light and remind us that we should harbor them as beacons as we travel through this world- and eventually into the next.

And sometimes the death of a distant acquaintance can have a startling effect. It hits us deeper then the death of a distant relative, even though the time spent with this acquaintance was merely a few hours and a brief conversation and the distant relative has a blood connection to us. When someone leads a life dedicated to an unwavering truth- and then dies in pursuit of this truth- it makes us pause and reflect. If this person, creating such intense art in places others could never dare to visit, died pursuing his truth- why am I still dragging my feet on following my own truth?

When a person is killed pursuing something bigger than themselves- and leaves behind a massive legacy that supports his truth- something in us shifts. We stop. We take notice. We listen. And we look within to see how far off we are from pursuing our own truth- at any cost.

And we know the world is a little less beautiful because this person has left us.

I’m speaking here of the death of photojournalist Chris Hondros, who was killed this week along with documentary film maker and photojournalist Tim Hetherington. I met Chris one evening many years ago through a function at UNC and several of us shared beers and a few games of darts later that evening. He presented his award-winning work that evening to a group of photojournalists and I was moved by the depth of such work. He spoke of the how and the why behind his work. I don’t remember the conversations that evening- we photographers tend to just chat about gear, swap assignment stories or just play bar games- but I remember enjoying the night.

Even though I didn’t know him, such powerful and intense work leaves you with an impression of the person. I could pick up the paper, see his photo of some war-torn country and think “that’s an amazing-and heart breaking image, Chris”. I feel connected to the creator of the work, even if there is no real personal connection.

And that’s how a powerful artist- who holds his truth close to his heart- moves people. That’s why a photojournalist can place his or her life on the line and stand for something larger then themselves. Their art speaks for them. Their passion is seen in their images. No language is necessary and no words could do the pain and sorrow justice. Chris, and the photojournalists who do this work, take you into the intense moments of humanity.

Photojournalists place a human face on the abstract concepts of war and conflict so we can not sit in our comfortable homes and think that bombing other people is justified.

They risk everything to show you what they feel is wrong with our world. They risk everything to show you what they feel is right in our world.

Photojournalists risk everything to show you the truths of humanity.

I’ve compartmentalized my life in the past several years. I’ve embraced commercial multimedia production to try and fund documentary projects- and have had minimal success. I’ve built an amazing platform on this blog that started as a travel journal and has evolved into a social commentary of what I find when I travel through the world. I’ve become a writer. And lately, I’ve felt a pull back to my roots. I’m feeling the photojournalist emerging and wanting to journey back into the world and document my truth. Though my training is in photojournalism and I have an amazing community of fellow photojournalists (we’re a small community, but passionate) I’ve always considered myself a documentary photographer. And, by definition, I am.

But I’ve always separated the work that pays the bills from my true passion work- my photography. And Chris’ death is causing me to look inward with some intense scrutiny. And the lack of alignment in these two departments seems to be my biggest hurtle and has formed a mental wall between pursuing my passion and supporting myself.

I do believe the time has come to embrace my truth completely. The time has come to pull the documentary photographer out of the shadows and place her in the light. She’s been a little timid- filled with fear and what ifs- but the time has come to truly put her to work- with structure, support, focus and Flow.

Now is the time to step to the Edge where all the fear and discomfort dwell and ride the Flow towards something larger than myself.

For, as I learned at a young age, the brevity of life is real. And as I was reminded of this week, our truths are what define us and our legacy reflects the impact we have on the lives we touch as glide through the world.

Democracy Now produced a wonderful segment on the two fallen photojournalists this week. Take a moment to watch this video and learn more about their work, their legacy and the beauty that was silenced this week. The video below is from GritTV and is a wonderful interview with Tim’s roommate, another amazing photojournalist, and truly speaks to the thought process and awareness necessary to do the type of work they embrace.

More GRITtv

Someone, Somewhere Thinks Your Journey is Beautiful

As we travel through our lives, we sometimes come to a massive fork in our path. Sometimes the path splits do to forces beyond our control. Other times, we take a dramatic turn because we want to.

Because we need to.

Taking in the sunset at The Park in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by me.

We take the drastic turn because we fear where our safe, predictable path may take us. Sometimes we hit the brakes, yank the steering wheel to one side and hold on tight as the wheels tip into the air and fight to touch the ground again.

In those moments, we feel alive! Our hearts race, our vision is clear and our being is at peace- in the midst of the chaos. Deep down, that inner voice, that inner-child, knows we’ve made the right decision. We feel it, in the depths of our being, that connection to a source larger than us. We understand that this radical shift will take us closer to that source- yet we can’t articulate what we’ll find on our journey.

And if someone is looking in from the outside, they may see our radical shift as just that. Radical. Without grounds, without purpose- radical for the sake of being radical.

Our friends and loved ones may not understand our inability to justify ourselves in a way they can comprehend. They may doubt our choices. They may judge our decisions. They may question our sanity.

At this point, we are speaking a foreign language. Our loved ones simply do not have the frame of reference to understand us. We’re speaking gibberish and it scares them.

Hopefully, if we’re lucky, they will understand that this need for change, this need to evolve, this need to touch something greater than ourselves is just who we are. It’s the path we’ve chosen- the journey we must undertake. If we are lucky, our loved ones will step back and just accept that we must travel this path, with all its vines and vistas, and they will not try to understand the how or the why. They will just accept what is.

If we’re unlucky, our loved ones will judge, they will protest and they will try to crush our plans and dreams. (I’m not speaking from personal experience here- I’m speaking from observations. My family may object or question at times, but they understand and accept- eventually) What breaks my heart is to meet a person who was in the process of yanking the steering wheel off-course yet kept on the safe track because someone questioned his dreams. Someone shot down the possibilities that he was about to embody. Someone shattered the path we was about to travel because of jealousy, fear or ignorance.

And he let them.

Do we have to justify our radical shifts? Do we have good retorts when someone mocks our decisions?

I had coffee with a friend recently and mentioned that I was going carless once I left the beach and he laughed. He said, “It’s like that phase, in the 80s, when everyone thought it was cool to be gay.” I just kinda looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. We were walking away and he said it with a laugh and that’s just the way my friend is, he’s a good guy and open minded (remember, I’m in South Carolina right now). I just shook my head and rolled my eyes at him. The comment stuck in my head though, I didn’t have a good response. My reasoning is beyond his comprehension. And I don’t know if it’s worth having the conversation.

I feel as though I have two worlds sometimes. I have my “virtual world” where I connect with real people who are on the same page as me- in thoughts, actions and lifestyle- and I have my “real world” where I interact with people from all walks of life, and only a handful of them actually understand me. When I mention things like, “gas at $5 a gallon soon, can’t wait to ditch my vehicle and walk everywhere” or “yea, I’m gonna go off-grid soon because I think we’re in for a rude awakening as a society and I want to be self-sustaining” people look at me like I’m on crack.

It would actually be less shocking if I took out a crack pipe and lit up in front of them.

I get it, I’m on the East Coast and people don’t think this way. Most people in the East (most- not all) think that the lights will always be on and the gas their SUV guzzles comes from a magic fairy in the sky. (Or the don’t mind bombing the hell out of some other country to keep their car running) Rarely do they stop to consider that the whole circus might come crashing down. Or that their consumption habits might want to be curtailed if they’d like their grandchildren a chance at a livable future.

I’m hoping in the coming year or so to merge my virtual and my real lives. And I’m doing this by making radical lifestyle shifts and surrounding myself with people who don’t think I should be committed for purging most of my belongings and walking to the market.

And hopefully, you also have the core people close to you who will allow you to take a radical turn and embrace you as your journey unfolds. Hopefully you’ve found your balance and touched that inner space with the loving support of people who get you. While they may not be traveling the same path, or even understand why you are walking that way, they will embrace that this journey is your life.

And if not, find the community that will help you turn that steering wheel. They exist. Somewhere, a community exists that understands your motivations and the journey you have chosen. They understand because they made the same choices- for the same reasons.

Somewhere, someone is waiting to connect with your journey. Somewhere, that person is waiting to celebrate all that you are and all that you will become. Somewhere, there is a person who doesn’t think your radical journey is insane.

Someone, somewhere thinks your journey is beautiful.

Mindful Internet Use- aka why I’m Exiting the Facebook Vortex

For years, or so it seems, I’ve wrestled with my engagement in the beast that is Facebook.

Mindful prayer at the Dalai Lama's Temple in Dharmsala, India.

I’m a non-conforming type of person (for the most part) and Facebook is the antithesis of non-conformity. (Thanks @shanaphoto for the FB Vortex term!)

I’m anti-Corporation, yet Facebook has morphed into the gateway for the Corporation to feed on your social and “private” interactions.

I’m very anti-Big Brother, yet Facebook has given me the opportunity to willingly and knowingly place all my information out there for Big Brother, Big Sister and any Corporate hack wanting to crawl into my mind and extract any information for any purpose they see fit.

I’m a fairly private person, yet Facebook tempts me to forgo my beliefs in privacy in the online space (yea, I blog about my life, I see the contradiction, but I keep those posts free of names and specifics) and connect with all my friends and family for all the world to witness.

I value time above every other commodity I can acquire. I believe that money’s main purpose should be to buy us more time to enjoy that which truly makes us feel alive in life. Yet, I allow Facebook to extract valuable moments of my life as I peer into the lives of others.

I weep when I see the direction of our youth, the direction of our society, who spends most of their waking moments engrossed in one-way methods of communication rather than face to face interaction. I cringe at the thought of growing up as a teenager in the age of Facebook. Teens are vicious and with the tools of social media and an age of waning personal responsibility, a platform such as Facebook is dangerous for our younger generations. Imagine never being able to break the bonds of your awkward high school years because all those people are connected to you on Facebook. My generation, the Gen-Xers, came to Facebook after we found out who we were in our young adult lives- without the permanent umbilical cord to our past that FB provides.

I fear for the young people who may never break from their past identities because they stay connected to that umbilical cord to their younger self.

Mindfulness seems to be a reoccurring theme these days. As I move forward through my life, which is now engrossed in the digital realm- for both work and social interaction- I am forced to truly evaluate the mindfulness that I embrace in every online interaction and platform of communication.

I read this article yesterday from Tricycle and my beliefs for deliberate and engaging online social interactions were reinforced.

A Deliberate Shift in Lifestyle

As I’ve traveled through the process of becoming a location independent professional and embraced this medium of blogging over the past several years, I’ve recently come to some pretty meaningful and drastic conclusions. As the internet is evolving and interaction is becoming more mindful, I too need to continue on my path towards evolution and higher levels of consciousness. I’m making some drastic changes to my life in order to truly embrace the person I am becoming and I’m releasing some of my old habits in an attempt to let go of my past and walk towards my present. My Facebook suicide is only part of the plan

I’m going Carless. The time has come to ditch my vehicle and my dependence on this oil addiction and remove my participation in the carbon attack on the Earth. I’m no saint, by any means, I travel heavily by plane, train and mass transit- so I’ll still have a carbon footprint. But my vehicle won’t be part of the problem.

– I’m moving to a city so I can go local and live in a bubble. That’s right, I’m building my own little bubble, complete with an organic/local market, a yoga studio, coffee shops and community- all within walking distance. I make my living online now (for the time being) so where I live has no impact on my livelihood- as long as there’s a decent internet connection and a quiet space to work.

I’m purging the remainder of my belongings- well most of them. I’ve paired down over the years and all of my belongings fit in the corner of my mother’s garage. Problem is, those items are still my responsibility and are taking up space as I’m moving around the country and the world. And I still have belongings in Colorado as well, from my attempt at settling in the Rockies this fall.  Oy Vey! So, I need to release these belongings, I feel tethered to their existence and my responsibility to owning them. I’ve paired my possessions down to the sentimental objects of my past and the informational objects (books and research) of my future. Purging at this stage is getting dicey. Conundrum! My dear Little Friend will be acquiring my library- problem solved! And I believe I’ll have a photo shoot of all the sentimental belongings, publish them in a book for myself and give them away. I’m trying to place all my possessions in two trunks (on XL and one small cube) and a milk crate of books. That’s it. It may take some time, but I’m daydreaming about such a sense of freedom!

I’m working on my spiritual self in a step towards engaging in (or trying to seek) a higher level of consciousness. I’m going to pursue Yoga for its spiritual enhancements as well its physical benefits. I studied yoga years ago and feel the time has come to continue my journey. Mindful internet use is just part of this spiritual work. Both eliminating the time spent on certain websites and engaging in social media with more positive intention- rather than just filling a void- are part of this path.

- I want to read more. I read often and sporadically throughout the day. I’d like to actually make the practice a scheduled part of my daily endeavors. Eliminating FB just opens up more time for this practice.

I’d like to clear the clutter that occurs when I spend too much time online. My mind is a sponge. It sucks up all information and sometimes that’s a little exhausting. I truly do not need to know or even glance at so many occurrences in other people’s lives. I want to celebrate the positive events for my friends and I hope to continue that in a more face to face and deliberate engagement with these people who are dear to me- outside of the FB interface.

Addiction & Crutches

I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding addictions. In my younger days, when partying like a rock star was a badge of achievement for my suburban rebellion, my father made the comment that drinking is a conscious decision. He made the decision at a young age to avoid the fate of his genetics and only consume one or two drinks in a social atmosphere. He avoided the over-consumption of alcohol and when he found that he craved the alcohol, he stopped drinking all together until the craving was long gone. I chose to take the same path in life. When any substance or habit became something I craved, became a crutch or something I needed to make the day bearable, I stopped that behavior completely. I reintroduced it at a later date, when I’d proven to myself that I didn’t need the habit or substance. And somethings were never reintroduced.

Facebook has become one of those crutches. I’m not a habitual FB user, I don’t update constantly with content from my personal life and I use it predominately for marketing and professional purposes. But I am a serial FB lurker. For many months (or years) I’ve lived in rural areas devoid of a proper community that reflects my artistic self. The communities may exist in these areas, but they are very fragmented and difficult to engage with on a daily basis. Social media has become my connecting point for my community.

Over the past 9 months, Twitter has become my community gathering place for conversations online. And for many days while living in the desert, Twitter became my connection to reality. I’ve met wonderful people from around the world who I communicate with on a daily basis. We chat briefly about our craft, our passions and pass along information about our lives. Sometimes, we just say hello and see how the other person is doing. Other times, we celebrate the milestones and accomplishments of our lives. And sometimes we gather in person for coffee and life-altering conversations.

That’s the power of social media, that’s the purpose and that’s the relevance.

Yet, when I log into Facebook, I’m left to simply wonder why I am there. Granted, there are a few dear friends and family who do not use Twitter (nor do they need to) and I connect with them using this platform. But those connections are happening less frequently, as I try to be more mindful of my digital interactions and curtail my inboxes. So, when I log into FB, I’m left asking– why? And I don’t really do anything productive or meaningful while I’m there. I’m simply spying on people. And what’s the value in that?

The Final Nail and a Possible Solution

After reading about mindful social media, I stumbled onto this article from Adbusters regarding the recent action of FB to remove the Palestinian FB page calling for the Third Intifada.

And while I’ve debated pulling the plug on my account for many months now, this pretty much solidified my decision. It’s time to disconnect from the beast that is Facebook.

I’ve had enough. It’s time for me to move on.

That said, there are a handful of people I interact with regularly and I will miss that communication. We’ve shifted the conversations to FB for simplicity of connection and I’m left to question whether or not I want to continue this connection with these friends. And yes, I do wish to keep in contact and I know that email is not the best means. I’m going to try an experiment and set up my own “social network” using BuddyPress. This will be used for the people I communicate with regularly on FB and want to keep the channels of communication open. Don’t know if it will work, but I’m gonna give it a go and see what happens.

So, I publish this article now as a means of helping others understand the Why behind my Facebook Suicide. This action is merely a step in my personal evolution. I hope those of you reading this from my posting it on my FB account (irony- I get it!) will continue to connect using the other means possible from the online sphere– or the face to face realm.

For others reading this, I hope this sheds some light on the motivations of using social media. Our actions online should be deliberate and mindful. Hopefully we can all find our means of connecting with like-minded folks and build our communities in the online space. And as we travel through the world, maybe we can step away from our computers and smartphones and embrace the age-old act of face to face interaction and conversation.

Make a deliberate and mindful movement towards your online engagement as you move through the digital world.

An after note: As if functioning on some similar plane of thought, I read the following two posts after finishing the first draft of this article. If you are not yet reading Satya Colombo’s work- stop what you’re doing (yea, I’m telling you to leave this blog) and go directly to his Fierce Wisdom site. Go now and read this interviewThen spend the rest of your morning- or entire work day- soaking up the amazing wisdom that is present in his words. Brilliant!

Next, head over to Julien’s site and read this little gem of an article. Go ahead, get sucked into his site as well , the writing is well worth the time investment!

The comments are OPEN on this one- fire away- it’s a hot topic!  And, as always, take the conversation to the Twitter- @crystaldstreet because this article won’t be on the FB for much longer.

Does the Darkness Find You?

We all know of the dark and twisty places that touch on the depth of our existence as humans. I’m not referring to the surface level sadness and anger that find us on a regular basis and tap us on the shoulder for a little get together.

In the Holy Church of the Sepluchure

I’m talking about the deep, thick caverns of darkness that find us- unwilling and unprepared to deal with the void that the darkness provides.

This darkness shatters our realities and leaves us bewildered and alone.

The darkness is something we rarely talk about in normal discourse. We hold this darkness close to our souls and we show it only to a select few. We reveal the darkness only in moments of intense vulnerability with people who can sit with our darkness and not flinch or judge.

Not everyone harbors the strength to sit with the darkness and welcome it to a cup of tea. And some darkness is just too intense to share a space with for a moment longer than necessary.

Sometimes the darkness breaks people and they never glimpse the light again.

How you handle your darkness can be an indication of how much joy and gratitude is present in your life. When we truly understand the brevity and gift that life provides us, we can sit next to our darkness and touch the sorrow that lies within the void and not be permanently damaged. When we understand how truly blessed we are or when our lives are filled with unconditional love, we can surrender to the sorrow and know it will not break us.

We know that this darkness will not define us. We understand that the void will not empty our souls and strip our compassion. We comprehend that the pain we feel, the sorrow that engulfs us will eventually subside. If we’re lucky.

Our darkness will leave a mark. Our darkness may linger, unwanted and unwelcome. Our sorrow may hide the sunshine for some time.

But eventually, our ability to sit with our darkness will move us forward towards a new definition of our existence. Our darkness will push our souls to the boundaries of our mortal existence- to peer into the abyss below. Our sorrow will remind us of our strength and gently carry us towards a deeper level of empathy than we would know otherwise.

Our sorrow will connect us to others, without words, without language- with only a glance or an exchange of energy. Intense sorrow breeds a cloak of empathy that embraces the energies we touch who have also walked the path of sorrow.

The darkness will find some of us and leave in its wake a strong, powerful being who fears little and loves much.

The conversation is on The Twitter- join in! @crystaldstreet

Our Evolving Selves.

We are constantly evolving. If you aren’t evolving- you’re dead. Sorry to be so blunt, but the person who doesn’t constantly change and evolve is a person not truly living.

And then- we dance.

Stop for a moment. Hit pause. Close your eyes and what is the vision of yourself?

Are you standing at the edge of a rocky ocean, arms spread wide, head back and falling into the wind? Are you feeling that wind of change caressing your cheek, whispering into your ear the sweet nothings of something bigger than you- something larger than your daily existence? Are those winds of change enticing you to walk away from all you’ve known and step into something totally new and embryonic- something revolutionary?

Do you see yourself in a vast, wide world, standing in the midst of swirling chaos and uncertainty- totally still and immersed in the moment?  Are you standing amongst the bedlam completely at peace and grounded in this environment of wonder and adventure?

Or are you buried beneath a sea of obligations? Are your bags so deep and so burdensome that your lungs are crushed and you can’t see the light beyond your things? As you stand here, buried and bewildered, are you wondering if there’s more to life? Are you wondering how you got there? Are you wondering where to go next?

If you fall in to the last category- then you need to evolve. At some point, possibly many years ago, you stopped learning. You traded in the adventure and the uncertainty for the corner office, a 401K and comfort. Hate to break it to you, but that was the wrong decision. (Depending on your family situation, a little stability is necessary and so is the ability to provide for your loved ones) But sacrificing your life to accomplish these goals is not required-society only wants you to think concession is necessary so you’ll continue to consume and boost the economy.

If you’re currently standing in that position of burden- go learn something. Turn the microscope inward and embrace a talent, skill or idea you crushed long ago in order to pursue your comfortable existence and go master that skill. Go be that person you envisioned at 18, the fearless warrior living an exceptional life. Go be that person. Start with learning. And begin your evolution.

We must constantly evolve.

Even though I’ve been on this unconventional journey for many, many years- really, my whole life, I still feel the need to constantly evolve. To the point that my need for evolution can be viewed as a character flaw. As soon as I figure something out or accomplish something- I don’t feel the need to continue doing it! I then feel compelled to tackle the next unknown- the next adventure- the next craft I must attempt to master.

This winter has been a wonderful learning and evolutionary experience. Again, as was last winter. I’ve learned that my struggle between the stationary life and the transient life must end. I have to be one or the other- I can’t be both at the same time. But, it is possible to be transient at times and stationary at others- just not all at once. And, ironically, that involves shedding even more possessions and fine tuning my spiritual path in life.

In order for me to evolve, I must push myself to an edge that I’ve glimpsed at, but never truly embraced.  I must push myself to the edge of passion, to the edge of my craft, to the edge of my personal relationships and to the edge of my comfort zones.

When I close my eyes, I see a woman standing in a deep valley, filled with all sorts of unknowns and curiosities. This woman is planning her way through the valley, navigating her way through the mystery- and this woman is ready to dance at any moment. I also see a woman standing on the edge of a cliff above that valley. She’s standing in the wind, eyes closed, just feeling the sense of wonder that valley holds. She’s feeling the winds of change and she’s reveling in their whispers of uncertainty, passion and evolution- and this woman’s ready to leap at any moment.

To soar.  To fly.

This vision comes to me often, every day, at the most inopportune moments. And I always pause and sit with the vision. Then I write. This vision gives me peace. It doesn’t tell me what to do, it assures me that the intensity is real- that the intensity of that vision makes life worth living.

What do you see when you close your eyes? Are you ready to dance? Are you ready to leap? Are you ready to soar?

And are you willing to fall in order to evolve? Or are you too afraid to do anything at all?

Let me know your vision- I’m on Twitter- @cstreet10 !  If you’re ready to take the conversation deep- join my TinyLetter and we’ll go there!