I rarely watch television, but I was captivated by the Ken Burns documentary film, "Unforgivable Blackness", profiling the rise and fall of Jack Johnson, the first African-American Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, shown this week on PBS. I regularly listen to NPR (and yes, I'm a member of both KCTS and KPLU), and Wednesday morning I listened with rapt attention to Ketzel Levine's story, "Moving from Accounting to Dance", profiling Manon Martin, a former accountant from Seattle who recently sold her house and quit her job to transform her passion for belly dancing into a new career in the Middle Eastern dance clubs of Paris. What inspired me about both people is their willingness to ignore conventional wisdom and/or rules to boldly pursue their dreams.
"Johnson in many ways is an embodiment of the African-American struggle to be truly free in this country — economically, socially and politically," said Burns. "He absolutely refused to play by the rules set by the white establishment, or even those of the black community. In that sense, he fought for freedom not just as a black man, but as an individual." While Johnson's race was a huge factor in the immense obstacles he faced in pursuing his dreams, I think his story offers encouragement for a man or woman of any race who wants to be truly free of limitations imposed by society ... or as Don Miguel Ruiz might say, free from the agreements we make to gain approval from our family, friends, employers, church or society as a whole (i.e., the mitote).
Manon Martin was, until very recently, working as a University of Washington accountant, living a comfortable, stable and yet not altogether fulfilling life in Seattle. She discovered a love of dancing through dance lessons a few years ago, and was doing some work as a part-time dancer at weddings and bar mitzvahs. A friend urged her to follow her passion, and she decided to take the leap, of careers, continents and language (she does not [yet] speak French). Her closing quote in the story confirms (to me) that she is on the path with heart: "When I dance and my endorphins release, it's like communing with the divine."
All this is evidence, to me, of a variation of a zen proverb: when the listener/viewer is ready, the stories appear. I've been reflecting lately on dreams, and the boldness often required to pursue them. Reading Dan Oestrich's recent post regarding Martin Luther King, and his (MLK's, that is) famous "I Have a Dream" speech, has added more fuel to the fire ... and I believe I'll need to really stoke that fire to build up the gumption to boldly pursue my dream (building an organization to promote the development and use of technology to help us recognize that people around us are all kindred spirits, each interesting and inspiring in his or her own way).
I'll conclude by posting a quote that is resonating more deeply within me every day:
'But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money--booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!' "
[Edited 2010-11-08, to update link to Dan Oestreich's blog and add a few photos.]