Last year I went on a coast-to-coast solo motorcycle trip. A project I call "Ride Of Your Life" - a journey to inner peace. I embarked on this 6,000 mile ride only a year after obtaining my motorcycle license and along the way interviewed scholars and scientists like Deepak Chopra, James Pennebaker, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Byron Katie. I also spoke with dozens of people I met on the road at gas stations, parking lots, restaurants, rest areas, and inns. When they heard that I was carrying out my longtime dream of riding coast to coast, people responded by opening up and sharing their dreams, aspirations, and regrets. A nameless biker, who lives 4000 miles away is a great confidante.
Here's what I found.
People dream about things that are within their reach. No one I met wanted to be famous, go to the moon, or climb Mt. Everest. It's not that people's dreams are trivial or uninspiring. In fact, it was amazing to hear what diverse futures people dream for themselves: becoming a teacher, writing a short book, getting back in touch with a relative, seeing Japan or New York, opening a car shop, speaking a second language. These are all things that a lot of people get up every morning and do, but could seem unattainable to the people who dream about them. To get back in touch with her sister, Sally only needed to pick up the phone and call, but the fear of the response at the other end of the line kept her from doing it. To see Japan, Steve only needed to buy an airline ticket, but he was not sure that he could handle the long flight. My own experience was the same. A lot of people ride motorcycles, yet at first it seemed unattainable to get a bike and learn how to ride it.
One's dreams can seem as high and illusive as a rainbow, but it's all a matter of perspective.
The lens through which you see the world determines your reality. On the fifth week of my ride I met with author and spiritual leader Deepak Chopra in Carlsbad, CA. One of the things we talked about was a shift in perspective he experienced while he was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2010. That year Chopra went to Thailand to experience living the life of a monk, disconnected from the external world for three weeks. At night he slept alone on the floor (with the exception of the company of a few mosquitoes), and in the days he went on an "alms round" carrying a begging bowl, dependant on the villagers nearby for food. Chopra was not used to walking barefoot on pebbles and rocks, and when he came back the first night his feet were sore and he was in pain. The abbot noticed this and suggested a solution: when walking, focus the attention on the foot that you lift (and the sensation of relief) instead of focusing on the foot that you put down (and the sensation of pain). The next day Chopra followed this advice and his pain was gone. "The world is open to interpretation" Chopra says "and you have full control on where you decide to put your attention". Pain or relief is just a conscious choice of perspective.
Phil Zimbardo is one of the people who shaped the face of modern psychology as we know it. We met upon my arrival in San Francisco on the third week of my ride and talked about the power of perspective. His seminal Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrated the power of perspective to an extent that seems almost impossible. In the experiment, Stanford students were randomly divided into "prisoners" and "guards" in a makeshift prison established in the university's basement. Within hours, the guards adopted their role and started getting rough with their fellow students who were given the role of prisoners. These in turn, adopted a mindset of helplessness, and accepted a reality where they are imprisoned and at the mercy of the guards. As a contrary example, Zimbardo describes the case of Vaclav Havel, who spent years in a real
prison but viewed himself as a free person and eventually became the president of Czechoslovakia.
Looking at the world through a different lens can make pain appear and disappear, and prison walls materialize and dissolve. Could it be that your wildest dreams are in fact within reach if you only look from a different angle?
Two weeks into my cross country motorcycle ride I arrived in the Grand Canyon. The day started with rain and fog, and cleared up with sunny skies later in the day, creating an amazing display beautiful, perfect rainbows. As I was standing there gazing at the captivating site it occurred to me that something in my perspective feels warped. I was not looking up at the rainbow. In fact, I was looking down. The multiple rainbows above the Grand Canyon were underneath me, shining above the Canyon's mile-deep chasm. Sometimes you don't even have to jump to touch the rainbow.
At the dawn of the new year many of us take the time to examine our lives and crate a design for the year to come. This year resolve to touch the rainbow. You don't necessarily have to aim high. Change your perspective and you may discover that the rainbow is right at your eye level, waiting to be touched.
PS: The photo of the sign asking not to touch the rainbow is real, but not meant to discourage anyone from dreaming big. It was stationed at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, next to a "rainbow machine" comprised of electric lights and motors.