by Jennifer Paros
My recent introduction to the proverb, ”The dogs bark but the caravan moves on” left me considering what might be keeping my caravan from moving on, in terms of my creative work and my life. Metaphorically, despite the barking of our own thoughts, others, or situations, we can always go forward - but sometimes I forget this and feel stuck.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking I am held back because of conditions or people. But these ideas are barking dogs. I am, after all, the thinker of my own thoughts. In truth, I am no more obliged to buy into any particular thought than I am to embrace the latest trend, purchase something for three easy payments, or answer a customer survey. The caravan moves on – no problem – if I let it.
When I go to write or create anything, I may have thoughts of time shortage, capability shortage, pressure – a lot of “I can’t.” But the only thing standing between me creating something new or not is where I place my attention. If it’s on those dogs, I’m limiting myself and I’m not leading the caravan; if I’m leading the caravan, the sound of the barking dogs is soon in the distance.
I knew for certain that although my body might be limited, it was my spirit that was unstoppable.
-- Janine Shepherd
In her Ted Talk, Janine Shepherd, a former Australian Olympic cyclist, describes being hit by a utility truck while on a training ride in the mountains. She broke her neck and back and was left a partial paraplegic, unlikely to walk again. Janine left the hospital weighing eighty pounds, medicated, catheter-ed, and wearing a plaster body cast. But in her darkest hours, the hours with which we’re all (at least) somewhat familiar, the hours in which the dogs bark the loudest and the volume of fear is high, she healed and moved on.
Janine Shepherd had no control over her accident or over the state of her “broken” body. All of this was real, but what allowed her to move on from that reality was her choice to be led by her internal power, rather than thoughts of her limited power over the physical world.
Her challenge was to give minimal attention to conclusions about her current condition and act as if there was more about herself and the situation she couldn’t yet see. This stance allows us to move on from that which appears impossible. By withdrawing our attention from what seems outside us or has been done to us, we place it back within us – where new ideas reside, and, in turn, potential and a new path.
The inside life is the real life.
-- George Pransky
There is no prescription for transformation, no map or to-do list. Instead, the way is personal, accessed through internal attention. Janine Shepherd’s focus shifted from her “broken body” to what cannot be broken within—the spirit. From there came a new direction: learning to fly. Working with the current physical conditions but not limiting herself by investing in judging those conditions, she became a pilot.
Though we talk about our “spirit being broken”, sometimes what we call spirit is the ego aggrandizing its perception of itself as wounded. The ego is about self-image -ideas we have of ourselves, not our true selves. The spirit is the energy behind all of that. It’s been likened to the electrical energy that makes the lamp work when we plug it in. The lamp is a lamp because we’ve thought it up and built it, but the only thing that makes it work is energy. And energy doesn’t break and neither do we.
When asked about being banned from all future competition for doping during The Tour De France races, Lance Armstrong said he expected punishment but not, “a death sentence.” For Armstrong, not being able to compete seemed like his end, destruction, because his identity as competitor had consumed his attention, and without it there appeared to be no “him”. His sense of self had formed from the outside-in, but with attention to the inside, he will find a self that is unbreakable and move on.
It is okay for things to break; it helps us remember what cannot be broken and reconnect us with where our power and authenticity truly reside. In life and creative work, the barking, both internal and external, can get loud but when the focus remains within, the caravan can always move on.