The soft wind tickles the birch leaves and deep green pines as they move gently in harmony with the breeze that appeared here in the wilderness overnight, after an intense furnace of heat baked us over the past few days.
Rocking on the Porch
Soft, squishy carpets of transparent red oxide pine needles blanket the ground below this old porch where I sit rocking. It’s my first time on this porch, looking over the lake. It’s about 25 feet long against the decorative wood shingles on the wall, a bird feeder hanging from the 120-year-old roofline, perched on a slight hill about 10 feet from the shoreline.
The Smell of Pines
The seven owners over the past 120 years have tastefully hidden these cabins in the trees, not visible from the water. The tall, established trees share the shoreline with fields of blueberry bushes and young pines hoping to one day make the journey to the sky.
Brain on Fire
My favorite mornings are those when I’m feeling well rested and my brain has been spitting out ideas faster than a firehose into a teacup. I awaken to capture them all with pen and ink, knowing some will be lost because I can’t write fast enough, and others may not seem like a good idea with the perspective of daylight.
The flood of ideas is often the result of experiencing what I call an emotional trigger, a moment or event that makes me realize something about myself, something that makes me desire change in my life.
Emotional triggers are like igniting the fuel in a rocket, pushing it forward to new and undiscovered planets. They are never predictable, never obvious, and they creep up on you like a thief in the night, stealing away your comfortable life by suddenly making you realize you need to do more, and often new things.
Though I embrace them, I also dread these emotional triggers, because comfort is a wonderful place to be. Yet that same comfort is what binds our arms to our favorite chairs, where we can easily rock our lives away, living out the status quo.
When these triggers come, they shake our very being, they awaken us internally, and they crack the foundation on which we stand like a giant earthquake, leaving cracks into which we can fall. We can be swallowed up in clinging to our existing stale yet comfortable life. It’s a point at which we either leap to new ground, unfamiliar territory, and embrace it as our new home, or we live among the cracks of certainty.
The Colors of an Exotic Bird
When we cling to certainty, we often fail to experience what our creator has placed before us, which is the beautiful, colorful, shimmering peacock feathers opened just for a moment, so that we might see our bright future. At that moment we either chase it to see where it leads, or we tell ourselves we like where we are and we are unwilling to see what lies ahead.
Living life as a curious explorer, challenging ourselves to climb new hills and enter uncharted waters, is what takes us to new levels of excellence and excitement.
For me, emotional triggers come in many forms. Someone will say something seemingly simple at a cocktail party, and it may help me put something together I didn’t even know I was searching for. It might be something one of the kids will show me, or something my wife will say, or often it’s a simple statement in a book or a movie.
I don’t chase emotional triggers. They show up at the most inconvenient times, and they immediately change your plans.
A Family Prayer
My dad has a prayer that we kind of consider our family prayer … “Change our plans according to your plans for us.” And to me these emotional triggers I receive are that voice telling me, “Turn left here. Trust me, just do it.”
A Night Out
Last night my trigger was the result of a movie, Yesterday, about a young musician with a career that’s going nowhere until a blackout wipes out the world’s memory of certain things — one of which is the Beatles’ songs. He becomes famous bringing those songs, as his own, to the world.
Though I loved the film, what triggered me was that I had never stopped to realize the impact those four men had on the world, and the impact those songs had in our lives, and how the world without them would not be as good as the world with them in it.
The Mozart of Our Time
The result of that thought was that these men, the musicians McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr, were the Mozarts of our time, and their persistence made an impact on the world that truly changed culture forever.
Touching More Lives
As the movie showed this man performing in Wimbledon in front of tens of thousands of people who are emotionally responding to the words and music of these songs, it struck me that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not touching enough lives, that I have too much more to offer and that I can’t stop, or even slow or get comfortable. Could I, in some small way, change the world for the better?
As you know, I’ve been on a mission to teach a million people to paint, because painting changed my life, opened my eyes, and made me see the world through the eyes of an artist. And I have discovered that plein air (outdoor) painters are the happiest people I’ve ever met, I think because they are painting and being creative, but also because they are outside in nature and with other painters, which is fulfilling socially, and because they are traveling to beautiful spots and continually challenged, which keeps them mentally stimulated.
Doing More Than Before
My mission is going well, more people are joining our ranks every day, and we’re able to help people with things like our Plein Air Force Veterans Squad, which is getting veterans in the U.S. and Canada to discover painting and perhaps giving those with PTSD a break from their demons. But this film made me realize that I need a bigger platform, I need to reach more people, that a million is a nice goal, but it’s too small.
Now, frankly, I am comfortable. I could coast for the rest of my life, probably keep doing the things I’m doing, and just keep the machine running. But this film made me realize that doing the status quo isn’t enough, and that I have to ramp up and do more. I have no idea what doing more looks like, how it will change me, but I can tell you that when I follow that voice, those emotional triggers, it always results in change.
Have you ever experienced emotional triggers?
I’m guessing you have. Falling in love is an emotional trigger that changes you forever. Having kids is also a trigger, because you have to rework your life. I never cared about making money until I had to have enough to feed and educate my kids.
For years I didn’t even want kids and I never thought I’d have them, until I met the woman I loved so much that kids were the next natural step. Now I can’t imagine life without them.
Deep in Your Gut
Emotional triggers are feelings of discomfort. When something hits your gut and you know you’re the one who has to do something about it. It can’t be “Someone else will do it.” You may be the only one on Earth who ever receives that idea, that thought. What would have happened if Edison had not followed his emotional triggers? I’d be writing this in the dark and mailing it to you (thanks to whoever thought of the idea of mail).
The key to emotional triggers … we all get them. The key is being tuned in to embrace them, and to grab them and do something with them.
Different Than Ideas
I get hundreds of ideas a week, but emotional triggers are bigger than ideas. They are things that are beyond ideas, things that can change your life and direction. Maybe they are things that will change the world, or things that will simply change your family or your work or your retirement.
You should also know those quiet voices will nag you because you know, at a subconscious level, that you’re supposed to be doing something with them.
Do you have something nagging at you?
Chances are this voice has you in mind, and you are the designated person, the only one on earth, who is supposed to do it.
Listen for it.
The result will be something you did not know you had in you. You will fear it, you will try to avoid it, but it will nag you till you do something with it, and as a result your life will be rich, never boring, and never sedentary.
The idea of getting new triggers at a time when most people are winding down is both frightening and invigorating. Having new purpose and new challenge is exciting, though very discomforting.
Looking back, yearning for what you never tried, is not the way you want to live. “What could have been” should never be on your lips. If you’re breathing and can communicate, even if you’re physically impaired, you can still change the world. Stephen Hawking did not let that stop him, and I cannot imagine how difficult it was and how much patience and persistence it required. But he was triggered and knew he had things to do. So do you.
PS: I have no idea how this new trigger will impact what I’m doing, but I know I need your support and don’t want to do it alone. I do know I need to amplify my efforts. If you would consider passing this on to just 10 people, the 10 you care about the most, and if they subscribe (you should too if this is just showing up somehow), you can help me touch more people. And if you happen to know someone who has a platform that can help amplify … a publisher, a celebrity, a media person, an influencer … send them a note and pass it on.
If I had one goal, it would be to help the world see another perspective, one that is rooted in love and respect. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you believe that too. Let’s help others find it.
PS2: Speaking of love, today is my brother Dennis’ birthday. He’s two years older than me, and I love and respect him, and thank him for being a role model for me in many ways.
PS3: There are a lot of people who are going on my behind-the-scenes fine art trip to the South of France and the trail of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, Chagall, and others. Though it’s not a painters’ trip, it’s just for people who love art, I have decided to do a painters’ trip for three days before to Saint-Paul De Vence, a charming medieval art village in France. If you’ve been reading about this stuff, want to go on the trip, and would love to dip your toe into painting — or if you’re on the main trip and want to go on this one to observe the painters, or learn to paint yourself — I’ll happily carve out some of my painting time for you to set up beside me for some personal instruction. I may have a target of a million people or more, but it starts with one person at a time. Of course, one of the best ways to begin that journey, without having to go to France, is to join our Plein Air Basics Course at the Plein Air Convention in Denver this coming May. It’s very, very close to being sold out; we’ve already exceeded last year’s attendance and won’t have many seats before long. I think we’ve already sold out a couple of hotels. But you will be with other beginners (in the Basics Course), and the instructors stay with you the entire week to coach you. Many people have done their first painting ever at the convention. It’s one of the best ways you can learn plein air painting (or even learn to paint).
Thank you for this…I kept it in my inbox until I made time to read it and it is timely. I’ve responded to “emotional triggers” over the years and that is how I have five published books. Painting is a dream I’ve done only between my writing and other life interests and responsibilities. I hunger to paint as I age. My first plein air experience was a year ago and I keep envisioning experiencing more. But life doesn’t travel a straight road and I became ill by doing too much, too fast, too stressed…and I’m healing and still dreaming of painting. Too many “emotional triggers” that didn’t culminate into anything was also a culprit. I need spaciousness, stillness, and beauty right now and I’m slowly working on a painting and a writing project. Maybe someday I will go on one of painting trips, but it will have to be when I’m more comfortable with paintbrush in hand.
A good read indeed, feeling challenged by your thoughts of what can I do to make a difference , and how an I make the time to jump in with two feet whole heartedly, you left me to ponder many things ,thanks .
Eric, I’ve been reading your essays for a while now; and have shared them with friends. You are not only helping people to paint but with your writing as well. I’ve been painting for over fifty years and am still driven by “triggers” in my painting and writing. Perhaps the triggers are God whispering in our ear?
I’m now 90 years of age, and just this morning my thoughts were on “what am I missing?” For a long time, I’ve felt there was something so deep in me that needed to come out that I have not been able to bring forth. This may be from insecurity or just not listening closely enough to my “triggers”. I had a recent illness that kept me from painting or writing for a period of time. I believe the desire to get back to “doing” helped cure me. Yet the feeling that there is more to learn or to teach persists in my psyche, and yes, it’s a bane and a blessing.
Thank you for this morning’s lovely essay. Your words will help me persevere. Please keep up the good work. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be wise for me to join your trips but I look forward to Sunday Coffee.
terrific article. You never know when those triggers will lead you to something better. I would say that to look at what might not have happened if someone or something had not happened is not a thing I do. If the Beatles never happened, some other musician would have filled the so called void. We were blessed to have the music of our generation and generations before…but I sincerely believe that if someone never existed…someone else would have who would do great things that we would revere them for. I figure that we would still have the advances we enjoy but maybe in a different format. Just my thoughts as I read your article.
Thanks for a thought provoking morning.
I so loved your comments this morning. Three years ago we had to move to the Valley (Harlingen) for my husband’s work. I had retired from a 30 year career in the music business in Austin, and I had been studying art on the weekends and evenings for nearly 20 of those years. There have many adjustments: distance from friends and teachers, loss of resources that I had taken for granted, and loss of a community of people who recognized my path. On the other hand I have become active with the Harlingen Art Forum, and have started an open paint session at our local gallery. Once a week I drive for an hour each way to the only life drawing session in the Valley. Still, the blessings have been that I now have the most wonderful studio space in my life, and because I have fewer distractions, I paint more consistently and have learned to rely on myself for artistic decisions rather than felling like I need to get input from others. I also now value more highly the times when I can get out and paint with other artists, like those in OPS. I am still swimming upstream against a market where Art is not valued or affordable for most in our area, but I keep painting.
“Change our plans according to your plans for us,” triggered me to think about how I can’t yet honestly say to God, “ Your will, not mine, be done.” It’s too risky for one who is too afraid to trust. Your dad sounds like an amazing, courageous father. Courage is not the absence of fear—as we all know. Thank you for this provocative essay which disturbed my Sunday morning in a good way.
Well done. Bery nice article. It hit home for me today. At the advanced age of 70 I am still open for that new creative adventure.