Joy Is A River: This Is What Happens When We Do Things From Our Soul.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi
10 years ago, I went alone to Lebanon for a vacation. I was under so much pressure at work that all I wanted to do was watch the Mediterranean sea from the hotel balcony and smoke cigars.
One morning, while taking a walk along the corniche, I saw a tattoo shop and went in out of curiosity. A short, boyish man with tattoo-covered arms looked up at me. “What do you want to do? I’m free for the next hour, and then it’s booked till next week Thursday,” he said.
“Oh, no. I’m just looking around,” I said.
Then out of the blue, I asked how a winged angel would look holding a banner with the words, “Born to be free.” He drew it freehand on tracing paper and said, “C’mon, get in the chair.”
Inexplicably, I did.
After a few hours of listening to loud, heavy rock music, I came out with a massive tattoo on my right shoulder. I looked in the mirror, and the tattooist was smiling behind me.
Wow, I thought. It was beautiful.
I felt a joy moving in me. He was a true artist. This was my first ever tattoo at the age of 40.
Sometimes we do things without knowing why, before we know why, or knowing that we’ll never know why.
That tattoo ignited my interest in the Self and kick-started my journey of self-discovery. Over the 10 years that followed, I would search relentlessly for what it meant to be free. I got to know myself better and started acting in alignment with the true me. Not yet freedom, but I was starting to feel closer.
Approaching my fiftieth year in the world, I’d always thought that 2018 would be significant for me. And it has been in many ways, but not in the way I’d expected.
A few days before welcoming in 2018, I broke my leg. I proceeded to spend most of January between hospitals, doctors, and the sofa.
For the past eight months, I’ve struggled to cope with my broken leg, the ensuing helplessness, and the shock of suddenly feeling I was physically damaged.
It was as if all the youth and energy had been sucked out of me. I was suddenly old.
I couldn’t run anymore, something I loved doing. I stopped meditating, as my mind was all over the place. I had to abandon several goals that I had earmarked for reaching 50 — climbing Kilimanjaro with my son on my birthday, doing an eight-week Pilates course to learn the anatomy of the body and how to take care of it, and walking the Camino de Santiago with my family.
In June, just a few days before travelling to Vermont for my MFA writing course retreat, I decided to pause my writing course to focus my energy toward my company. The economy has been tough for the past two years, but since January it has gone from bad to terrible.
Throughout this restless six-month period, I also started to question whether I wanted to keep writing about self-help. After publishing 150 blog posts and my book, The Shift, I felt that I’d written enough about the topic and wanted to explore other ideas.
I wrote in a blog post in June that I was going on a sabbatical: “I was no longer moving forward, but rather sideways. I’d become stagnant and didn’t feel like I was growing anymore.”
However, after that post, I received many emails and comments urging me not to stop. I met a young graduate who told me that my book truly changed his life. And then another young woman came forward to tell me exactly the same thing. Their heartwarming words put me in conflict. I didn’t want to stop blogging if I was genuinely inspiring people, but I also felt that I needed a break.
I took the easy option of not quitting blogging entirely, but partially. That didn’t work.
However, I did stop consuming all self-help material — blogs, books, and podcasts. I unsubscribed from most newsletters and stopped going to the sites I used to frequent — a refreshing and truly necessary cleanse for everyone at least once a year. Instead, I focused on reading fiction and watching Mad Men on Netflix.
In August, I spent some much-needed time with myself. I would wake up early to read, go to work, and then spend the afternoon smoking a cigar by the pool. With so little to do, I often found myself bored.
Slowly, I started to notice a pattern developing. 2018 has shown me what life can be when we eliminate the things we feel we must do. My broken leg, business woes, and instinct to stop blogging on self-help all conspired to insist that I do less. It was as if the Universe had schemed to slow things down for me. Life was literally telling me to walk, not run.
I recently turned 50.
I now know that I’ve got fewer days to live than I have lived already. This has shocked me into a sense of morbid reality.
This focusing in on the important things has been like removing the thick veil of bullshit I’ve hidden behind for so long.
It’s time to focus on what I really, really want in my life. It’s time I focused on the things that will make me free. It’s time to stop judging myself and others. It’s time to stop comparing my life with that of others. It’s time I accepted myself for who I truly am.
I might never run a marathon, ever. I might never write a New York Times bestseller or become the next Tim Ferriss. I might not make the millions I wanted when I was 21.
So fucking what?
The no-bullshit truth is that I enjoy the feeling that running gives me and will return to doing so, or maybe something new like swimming that can replicate that feeling. Writing continues to give me enormous amounts of pleasure and connects me to my soul, and I will never stop.
It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I do. Getting on the NYT bestseller list would please my ego much more than it would fulfill my soul. The writing alone does that. As for the millions, I’ve learned firsthand that the more money I make, the more I spend unnecessarily.
I don’t need the millions I yearned for, but rather enough to keep me secure and comfortable, to buy me some cigars, and to ensure my financial independence.
In reaching 50, I didn’t get all my questions answered. But this year has taught me one thing: In doing fewer things and sitting with nothingness and boredom, I’ve started hearing the murmurs of my soul.
Or, as Rumi put it, I’ve started “listening to the teaching of my soul.”
See you in 2019.
Mo Issa is an entrepreneur and a born-again writer. He finally gets that he’s a spiritual being having an earthly human experience. Mo loves Hemingway, Hesse and Buddha. He’s a soon-to-be yogi, and runs when he can sense the rain coming down. Mo has powerful conversations with anyone and everyone, reminding them of the story “The Death of Ivan Ilych” by Tolstoy where, on his deathbed, he says: “What if I lived all my life wrong?” He recently spoke at TedxAccra about Awakening to his Aliveness. Mo writes everyday when the clock strikes 6 in the morning, and has recently been published by both Rebelle Society and Elephant Journal. He also blogs regularly at Mo-Issa.com.