Surrendering, Choosing Self, & Connecting the Dots: My Year of Spirituality
New Year’s Eve. I love this time of year. An opportunity to reflect, to reevaluate, to set new intentions, and to feel empowered and envisioned for the year ahead.
If 2014 was the hardest, most challenging year of my life, 2015 turned out to be the total opposite—a year in which the universe supported and guided me in every direction.
I was blessed with an abundance of opportunities and possibilities that I never could have dreamed of. Things came naturally and effortlessly. It was almost as if the entire universe had conspired to steer me in a particular direction by placing the right person, object, or opportunity in my way at precisely the right time.
And it all started exactly a year ago with one small intention:
To let go and surrender to the present...
After feeling a deep emotional pain—the kind of pain when you know you’re not on the right path—throughout most of 2014, I knew I had to make a dramatic change in my life.
My mind wanted a plan; it craved certainty. But a deep voice inside of me steered me in a completely different direction: into the unknown.
I can honestly say that I had tried just about everything up to that point. The mind took center stage. It planned and schemed and constructed solutions, all in an effort to maintain the status quo and avoid uncertainty.
But here's the tricky thing about the mind: It can be an excellent servant, but a terrible master.
The thinking mind knows how to specify, categorize, rationalize, but it can't grasp what is beyond it. To go beyond, I had to look away from my busy mind and its contents. I had to completely let go, release control, and surrender to that deep voice within, which had been calling my name for over a year.
So in the fall of 2014, guided solely by intuition, I packed one suitcase and a small bag, said one last goodbye to my apartment, to the U.S., and to the life I had planned, and hopped on a one-way flight without a concrete plan to welcome me.
When we create space and bring more stillness into our lives, a wonderful thing happens: the inner world starts to open up, and our most truthful voices can be heard.
As the doors of intuition swung open before me, I knew that in order to set myself back on the right path, it was not enough to just change my environment. I needed to look deep within, fully embrace the inner knowing of the body, and completely transform everything from the inside out.
The only question was: HOW…
This is a “mind question,” of course. The thinking mind wants the step-by-step, procedural answers and is extremely uncomfortable with unknowns.
A better question was: “Am I willing to drop my mind and fully embrace the present-moment intuition?”
As Osho says, intuition is a jump—it is not something that comes to you in steps.
Intuition is sudden, in the moment, in the here-and-now. It arises from the unconscious and happens at lightning speed—quite a contrast to the slow, and often linear, conscious mind.
So, being the person I am, I decided to dive in fully and embrace intuition and the present moment throughout the entire year of 2015.
That decision has proven to be monumental and one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I still remember staring at the world map after leaving the U.S., wondering where I should place myself. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I was not sure what my next move was.
As I pondered over this question, something began to arise within me. It came in a quite distant voice at first, but then swept over me like a wave.
I began to realize my neglect and abandonment of self; it was as if my soul was a pack of lions, and someone had forgotten to feed them for a long time.
I was so busy building other people's dreams that I had completely forgotten about mine. It was time to make a big shift and go deeper into the desires of my own heart, which just wanted to move, to experience, to live fully...
In a flash of inspiration I turned to my old friend: my life goals list. I had neglected it, as I had neglected everything else in the previous year.
I scrolled down the page until my eyes rested on one of the last goals: “Learning Salsa.” It clicked immediately. I turned back to the world map and the answer revealed itself as clear as day: “Colombia…I will learn Salsa in Colombia.”
Although my intuition was ringing loud and clear, my mind, on the other hand, protested almost immediately: “South America? Why fly so far when you can learn salsa here for a fraction of the cost?”
Ignoring my intuition, however, was no longer an option. I’d been guilty of doing that way too often, and it has been, shall we say, extremely costly.
So I dusted off my wings, shut down my logical, worrying mind for a few seconds, and jumped into the unknown.
After all, this was going to be the year when I’m not only going to listen to, but also choose self.
2015: One With Life
So how did my 2015 year of spirituality and “surrendering to the present” experiment turn out?
If I had to describe my year in just one word, it would be “rebirth”: I got a real taste, a reminder, of what life could look like when one is in complete alignment with inspiration and the calling of the moment.
One experience led to another, one country led to another, one connection led to others, and by the end of 2015, I found myself enveloped in a state of bliss and peacefulness that I didn't even know existed.
I could go into all of the experiences and things that happened, but that would be a novel. Instead, I'll highlight a reel of moments from the year gone by using some key phrases, mementos, and a few pictures. I will let your imagination fill in the blanks.
Let the cameras roll.
30-day Salsa, Ayahuasca Ceremony, Spanish, Yoga House, Exotic Fruits, Happiness.
Memento: “Have you ever heard about Ayahuasca?” my Colombian friend asked in a calm voice.
“Yes,” I answered staring at his serene face. “A few times this week. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something here.”
I had just arrived in the beautiful city of Medellin, and the word Ayahuasca was mentioned numerous times in different contexts and different places. When I visited the Amazon rainforest in Brazil a few years back, I was offered to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony, but it hadn’t sparked any curiosity back then. Now it felt different. I was curious and felt ready to let go of the fear of the mind and trust that inner voice.
A week later, I brushed off any doubts and headed up to the nearby mountains for my first ever Ayahuasca ceremony. The experience is different for everyone, as it's linked to our own unique life context. Mine was of love. Pure love that can only be felt and not explained. It engulfed and invaded every cell of my body. I felt as if love, me, and the universe were all one.
Chanting, praying, and being part of an all-night ceremony in the mountains with two Amazonian shamans was definitely not part of the plan when I flew to Colombia, but perhaps this is what I love the most about travel: it can often take you much further than you planned to go…
Israeli Burning Man, Tantra Workshops, Kabbalah Course, Family, Groundedness.
Memento: Edo and I were walking on the long, sandy beach, chatting about life, the passions we share, and our dreams for the future, when Edo suddenly looked at me and said, “Hey, I’m meeting a few friends in Tel Aviv in a couple of hours to discuss Midburn. Do you want to join?”
I was not sure what “Midburn” meant, but, nonetheless, I said a simple “yes” without hesitation or further discussion. It just felt right, so I followed.
Later that night, I learned that Midburn is the Israeli Burning Man, one of the biggest desert art festivals in the world. I was in.
Without prior intent, I found myself taking a leading role in designing and building a personal development camp (how fitting..) called “Abundance.” For 3 months we schemed, planned, and worked on our camp, its workshops, its kitchen, and everything else that would allow us to thrive in a desert environment.
And very abundant it was, indeed—not just the festival, which was nothing but brilliant, but the journey and all the days, weeks, and months leading to the big event.
If you have ever been curious about Burning Man, don’t think too much, just go for it. You won’t regret it.
Tapas, Back in Europe, Old Friends and New Ones, Aliveness.
Memento: My hiking bag was packed and ready for my new adventure: walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain from start to finish in 30 days. But a day before I was to embark on my one-way flight to Madrid, something shifted in me. Another opportunity had arisen.
In the past, I'd heavily consult my mind and usually stick to the plan. This time, however, it was different. Earlier in the year, I had promised myself to listen carefully to my gut feelings and stay in the moment. Well, this was one of those moments.
My intuition was insistent on this seemingly short-term opportunity. So I obeyed and gave up on my big plan. Instead, I opted to stay in Madrid for close to a month, and I don't regret it for a moment. So many amazing things have happened and will continue to happen because of that one split-second decision. Never again will I allow doubt to cloud my intuition...
Pristine Beaches, Blissfulness
Memento: I rode my scooter through the twisting, curvy roads of the island of Ibiza. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon to be by the water.
Then, without thinking, I started to sing. A wave of blissfulness washed over me, and I began to tap my scooter's front panel. “This is my life”-- the thought came to me, and a happy smile crept over my face.
As I continued to sing, a stretch of beach with silky smooth sand and indescribable blue waters revealed itself to me. I stopped my scooter, took off my shirt, and ran straight into the cool water. Another thought immediately snaked into my mind: “This is what it means to be one with life...remember this, Tal. remember this….”
Digital Nomad Community, Beach, Wine, Social Butterfly
Memento: The message said, “Meet us at the beach at 3pm.” I’ve been a digital entrepreneur/nomad for more than 6 years, but somehow I had never joined an online community of other digital nomads. Today, for the first time, I was going to meet my tribe.
When I arrived at the beautiful beach of Barcelona in the Barceloneta, I knew I had come home. This was not going to be just another forum where people exchange information online. No, this was going to be something else, something special.
From the very beginning, I was welcomed with open arms. The Dynamite Circle community (“The DC”) has been nothing but brilliant, and I owe a lot of my centeredness and happiness this year to them.
Since that summer’s day in Barcelona, I’ve connected with the DC tribe wherever I’ve gone around the globe and formed bonds for life.
Dan and Ian, if you happen to read this – deepest gratitude for what you’ve built.
Digital Nomad Conference, House Music, Dancing ‘til Sunrise, Kreuzberg, Energy.
Memento: I met Marcus and Feli in Barcelona and liked them immediately. They were open, passionate, and perhaps most strikingly, they were absolutely committed to their journey. While chatting away, Marcus told me that they throw a digital nomad conference in Berlin. It felt right, so I didn't overthink it and bought a ticket the next day.
I spent more than two weeks in vibrant and cosmopolitan Berlin. During my stay, I had quite a few memorable experiences, but one that really stood out was Marcus and Feli’s event. I still remember walking through the doors of the conference venue and feeling the collective energy of 500 people who wanted to do something amazing and live big. I love my tribe.
If you ever dreamed of becoming a digital nomad, get inspired, and meet like-minded people, sign up for their DNX global events. It’s probably one of the best intros you can get.
Sun, Warmth, European Summer, Centeredness
Memento: “Would you like to enjoy a swim at the beach?" she asked in a gentle, loving voice.
“Swim, actually SWIM?” I asked back, perplexed. “Isn't the sea cold??”
It was a summer day in August, but I was in Estonia, one of the northernmost countries in mainland Europe. The water must be freezing here, I thought.
“You’ll be just fine,” she answered with a smile on her face. There was something in her wide smile and buoyant manner that made me trust her. So I followed and went for a swim in the surprisingly warm Baltic sea.
In 28 days in the old medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia, there was only one day without sun. The sun was shining, the air was constantly warm, and the beach kept calling my name.
Estonia, who would have believed?
Russian Spirit, Decadence, Desire.
Memento: I gazed into her intense eyes, studying her. She looked up, and our eyes locked. Her face was inches from mine. For a moment, it felt as though time had stopped completely.
Then my mind started its chatter and frenzy of doubt. “Does she feel what I feel? How would she react if I kissed her right now? Would she kiss me back?... Bla bla bla…”
I felt the moment slipping away in a sea of thoughts and self-doubt. As I pulled myself back into the moment, I noticed she kept her gaze on me. This time, I did not let thoughts steal the present. I lowered my head, and our lips touched for the very first time.
From that moment, Moscow did not look grey anymore. It did not matter that it was cloudy and cold and wet and…
When the heart is happy, the spirit is high. And when the spirit is high, all you can see is beauty.
40th Birthday, Family
Memento: I looked at the large table with a big grin on my face. Everyone was there: my parents, my sisters and their partners, my nephews and niece. They all came to the island of Kos in Greece to celebrate my big 40th birthday.
I could vacation anywhere in the world. I could have a romantic weekend getaway. I could experience anything I wanted, but this was what I chose: to spend a week with my whole family, the most precious people in my life, who were always there for me, no matter what.
This was more than a family vacation. This was a statement—for all of us. Our bond as a family unit will never break.
Routine, 10km Swimming, Mountains, Oneness
Memento: It was cold and rainy, but I did not care— the mountains were calling me. I left my friend's house, which sits right in the heart of the Vitosha Mountains, and started to walk.
With each step, the feeling of oneness with all sunk in. Walking turned into running and before I knew it, I was miles from home running uphill through majestic forests and green meadows.
I felt my legs getting stronger with each stride as I ran into the evening's darkness. The thinking mind was gone. There was no separation between me and the world. We were one.
We don't need to force ourselves to meditate in a cross-legged position in a quiet room with candles and incense in order to experience the state of oneness with all that is. It can be attained here and now if we just allow the moment to be received fully.
When I arrived in Sofia, I did not plan to go to the mountains. In fact, I did not plan anything and only met Jared and Anna, the couple who graciously hosted me in their mountain home three weeks before.
Magical things happen when you embrace the unknown and create more space in your life….
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Entrepreneurial Advising, 30-day giving challenge, Growth coaching, Flow
Memento: Sometime around October, my good friend and fellow entrepreneur, Chris Reynolds, invited me to be an adviser in his brilliant Entrepreneur House program in Chiang Mai.
Although this was on a voluntary basis and there were no actual incentives, I did not think twice and said yes immediately.
Within a week of assisting Chris and helping the house's entrepreneurs on a daily basis with goal-setting and big-picture planning, it hit me: I could align this with one of my long-held life goals: for 30 continuous days, I will help at least one friend a day through whatever he/she may need, and do so with zero expectations to get anything in return.
The results were astounding, and my attitude about giving has changed forever. It's amazing what can happen when you say a simple yes to something you know is right in your heart.
Yoga Challenge, Health, Spirituality, Peacefulness
Memento: I first met Thibault, a business owner from France, in Chiang Mai. I'd been giving him a couple of free one-on-one sessions as part of my 30-day giving challenge.
When I arrived to Bali to do yoga a few weeks later, a message landed in my inbox: “Hey Tal, I’m leaving my villa in Bali Friday morning, so I'd love to have you over before.”
Little did I know that his property was one of the most luxurious villas on the island, with a private chef, gym, cinema, and a 33-meter long infinity pool overlooking the sea.
Generosity begets generosity.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
7-day Detox Fasting, Emotional cleanse, Epic Sunsets, Silence, Reflective.
Memento: 7-day Detox Fasting, Emotional cleanse, Epic Sunsets, Silence, Reflective.
Memento: “You are in fantastic shape,” she said, “why are you doing a 7-day detox fast?”
She had a point. I have just finished 3 weeks of yoga in Bali and felt perfectly healthy and alive.
“I’m curious.” I answered. She kept her eyes on me and I sensed that I had to further clarify myself.
“You see,” I continued, “I have this long list of 100 life goals and detox fasting is one of them. My intuition tells me that this experiment has something to teach me besides the cleansing and health benefits.”
And my intuition was right. After 7 days of consuming only 200 liquid calories a day, I not only felt fresh and clear-headed, but also that an emotional weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I realized that my relationship with food, especially sugary food, was mostly emotional, and that a prolonged detox fast is as much an emotional cleanse as a physical one. A perfect ending for the year 2015.
* Thank you, Andrea Paige (Yes, you!), for inspiring me to set the 7-day detox fasting challenge.
Connecting the Dots
Steve Jobs used to say: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
This year, I fully adopted this approach and wholeheartedly embraced my inner guidance while stepping into the big unknown.
Back then, I did not know I would go to Barcelona, which led me to Berlin and Tallinn, which led me to Saint Petersburg and Moscow, and so on, and so on.
Every experience leads to another experience, every connection leads to another open door, and eventually it all starts to make sense. It’s actually quite incredible when you take the time to reflect and see how the dots connect.
Looking back now, I can see a clear path. I can see a pattern emerging. I can see how everything I’ve experienced in the realm of spirituality this year was in preparation for what’s next.
Which leads me to 2016….
Flipping a page to 2016
If you are a subscriber to this site, you already know that every year, around the Christmas and New Year period, I pick one primary focus for the upcoming 12 months. This practice allows me to immerse myself in the chosen area and to spur more growth as a result of it.
In 2015, I chose to focus on spirituality. This year, I pick creativity as my primary focus.
Let me share a quick story here.
While visiting Bali a few weeks ago, I went to see an 84-year old Balinese healer. I had heard a lot about him, and I was curious.
The old Balinese first looked at my eyes, then he told me to lay down and started to press a few points on my body. When he finished, he began to speak again.
“You are too relaxed,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “You need to take action. Destiny is not going to come to you, you need to come to it...”
Needless to say, this was not what I had expected, but the more I thought about it, the more I could see his point.
Shifting from Being to Action
If spirituality is simply BEING, creativity is ACTION. At first glance, the two don't seem to gel, but as I looked a little closer, I realized they actually do.
To be creative is to take action, but not from the thinking mind. To really create and enter a state of flow, the mind needs to be silenced, which is the essence of spirituality.
You see, spirituality is not about sitting cross-legged in meditation, or practicing yoga, or having conscious tantric sex. These activities just facilitate the spiritual progress, but they are not the essence.
The essence of spirituality is to continuously open yourself to the present moment and listen, really listen, so that you can guide yourself and CREATE from the here-and-now, rather than from the thinking mind that just loves to dwell in the past and the future.
If you think about it, nothing truly creative can happen if our attention is focused on the past or the future…
When you watch highly creative individuals—the musicians, the dancers, the painters, the poets, the sculptors, the actors, the writer—they first tune into the now by consciously feeling the moment. Only then can they dive in into action and create.
And that’s where my 2016 is going to begin—from a very centered and peaceful place. It took me close to 12 months to find my center again, but I finally did, and it’s now time for cre-ACTION.
2016 – My year of creativity
Similar to last year, instead of my usual sequential process that involves step-by-step goals and fixed habits, I’m merely going to set flexible intentions.
Here are a few of those intentions:
- Learn to play a tribal drum
- Compose an electronic song
- Improvise on stage
- Cook 30 different recipes in 30 days
- 21 days of juicing
- Publish a full-length book
- 30 days of expressing gratitude to friends/family through letters
I’m also going to commit to finishing my 100 life goals list which I’ve started to track 9 years ago, when I was 31 years old. I’m entering my 10th year, and it’s the perfect time to finish this list when all the creative juices are flowing.
All the above intentions are already on my list, but similar to last year, I'm going to be flexible and open to change them if my truth changes along the way. In any case, my 100 life goals list is going to be finished by the end of the year. 🙂
Wherever you are and whatever your plans are for the New Year, I wish you blessings of joy on your journey.
* If you're looking for more inspiration to help you on your personal development journey, you may want to check out my extensive list of SMART goals. This page is packed with thousands of different goal ideas that can help you set new aspirations and reach higher heights in your life. Personally, this page helped me to create my own 100 life goals list, which I pursued for over a decade.
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.