I can see moments from the imaginary trip so clearly with all the drama of a movie trailer. Dirt roads weave alongside sacred rivers. Crumbling temples draped with vines wait in the distance. Those iconic lush fabrics, spicy fragrances, and vibrant flowers swirl through the air. Zipping through the valleys and towns, I see myself on a motorcycle backpacking across India.
I’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, and I don’t even know enough about them to describe the type I am visualizing. But in the dream, I’m down to the bare essentials. Dressed in torn jeans and a simple white tank top, I carry only a knapsack stuffed with a few changes of underwear, prayer beads, powered shampoo, and a toothbrush. Add a smudge of grease on my cheek, a wrench in my jean pocket, and a traveling companion with a camera and a beat up guitar to complete the picture.
And there you have item number one on my “bucket list.”
Blame it on The Motorcycle Diaries or Eat, Pray, Love or Monsoon Wedding, but somehow I got this crazy idea into my head. I don’t even like maintaining vehicles. I resent having to stop for gas, and the outside of my car is so filthy that passengers express their fear that I can’t see out of the windshield. What makes me think I’d enjoy riding a fixer-upper through a foreign land?
If I were truly serious about my quest, I could start my research now. My uncle used to ride motorcycles and would probably offer a wealth of firsthand knowledge. But the truth is, I am not interested in learning. I just like the idea. I don’t want to plan. I only want to enjoy mentally flipping through these images as if they were laid out in a magazine spread.
This acknowledgement got me thinking about the role of “the bucket list.” In many ways, I fear it has become one more to-do list in our lives. With the pressure of so many feel-good films telling us to get out there and carpe the heck out of this diem, our list of amazing dreams can become one more way we try to keep up with the Joneses.
My grandmother told me during one of our weekend chats that her friend jumped out of an airplane for her birthday. I could tell that she was a little disappointed not to have such a grand act to her name. I asked her if she would ever want to jump out of a plane. We both agreed that it would be pure torture. So, what did we want to do?
As the often-quoted Joseph Campbell urges us to do, we need to “follow our bliss.”
This advice applies to any life list. We shouldn’t be going for the activities that sound flashy. The list is not meant to win us admiration or praise. It should actually be a very personal list driven by self-reflection. If your bliss really means cliff diving in Mexico, eating blowfish, starting a bed and breakfast in Tuscany, cage diving with great whites in Australia, or running a marathon on every continent, then, by all means, start preparing. But these dreams should be yours and no one else’s.
A good litmus test for an authentic dream is to see if you are just as excited by the planning and training phases as you are by the vision of yourself achieving the dream.
All steps should give you a buzz of pleasure. If you never make it to your end goal, the journey should be as rewarding. Do you love pouring over travel books and sites? Do you spend afternoons at Home Depot blissed out on the thought of restoring homes? Do you tune in ever year for shark week? Even the most wonderful dream is going to have pitfalls and struggles, so you’ll need that passion to push you through the setbacks and complications.
When I was offered a Make a Wish at age eighteen, they provided me with a pamphlet of ideas. I didn’t want an object or to meet anyone famous. I asked to take my family on a trip. I’d never been out of the country, and travel held an exotic sway over my young mind. I picked Rome, partially because I loved reading myths and partially because my mom loved Roman Holiday.
The trip was amazing but far from perfect. My dad couldn’t come because he was serving in Iraq. My mom led my four brothers and me through the city streets, where children were a rare sight in the summer. (I did my research and knew that the birthrate was low in Rome.) My brothers were irritated by the excessive head patting, and Jacob, then a fifth grader, hated being called bambino. We got confused on the bus routes and ended up riding the bus to the end of the line before strangers took pity on us. Later, my mom was certain we were going to die on the narrow roads of Capri during a day trip, and Eric was barred from the Sistine Chapel for wearing shorts. (He had been warned.) Still, I treasure those memories—jet lag, weird breakfast cheeses, and all.
I loved traveling so much that I did everything I could to study abroad in London and see as much of Europe as possible in six months. There, I faced everything from being threatened by East London gang members to strange hostel roommates to physical injuries. And it was all worth it. I still get a thrill of pleasure thinking about arriving in Prague in the dead of night when none of the buses were running and a soft snow was falling over the deserted streets.
We all have enough true passions to have a list free of clutter.
When we clear out other people’s expectations or the classic things we are supposed to want, we make room to take baby steps toward our true dreams.
Some dreams are simple. Don’t be pressured into wanting something more daring or adventurous.
As research, I checked out a few of the bucket list community sites to see what other people were posting.
Side note: I love community posting sites because it’s like reading people’s mini confessions or bios. All you have to do is surf Craigslist for a few minutes to see how fascinating the human race truly is (especially the room for rent ads).
Anyway, on these bucket list sites (P.S. I hate the name “bucket list” because the expression “kick the bucket” has never been one of my favorite ways to describe the transition between this state and another. Maybe I’ll call my list My Crazy Bliss Ventures List. Yes, much better), I saw the typical posts I expected as well as some unique dreams like “own my own sheep” and “live in New Jersey for a year.” No judgment here. If you want to learn to knit socks or play the bagpipes, don’t let those adrenaline junkies and globetrotters sway you.
Intrigued by these posts, I asked my roommates what they thought about the purpose of a Crazy Bliss Venture List. We agreed career or relationship goals don’t necessarily belong on this list. We thought it should be reserved for those activities that brought us nothing but joy. Anything that brought us money or social advancement (promotions, awards, marriage, family) would be put on other life goal lists. So, I’ll leave publishing my novel, finding my soulmate, taking a film to Sundance, and adopting a child to my other lists. The funny thing was, once we set-up these boundaries for authentic joy-bringing activities, we kind of got stuck on our lists. We decided we needed time to ponder.
As I went through my usual list, I threw out some items. For example, I’d love to speak another language, but I never enjoyed my Spanish classes. I have a hard enough time pronouncing things in English, and, while I value the skills of being bilingual, the process simply didn’t bring me joy. The same went for learning to play the guitar. As awesome as I think I would look strumming in a coffee shop or by a beach bonfire, the process of putting my fingers on those strings doesn’t light me up the way singing does. These dreams were definitely more about impressing people than they were about finding my bliss.
So, what was left? I still want to go to India, but I think I will leave the transportation to a professional guide. I sat down and meditated on what brought me bliss and found a few authentic wishes. Some of them may not be incredibly unique, but planning them makes me happy. Looking over them, I do realize that I am one heck of a hippie (blame my composting, hemp-wearing parents).
Here’s hoping you’ll set aside a little time to start your own list.
Just remember: you don’t have to dream big, just dream true. And don’t be afraid to try something out and quit if it is not for you. Edit often. Letting go is not an act of failure; it is an act of clearing space.
My Crazy Bliss Ventures List:
*Visit temples and ashrams in India
*Live in a yurt
*Travel across the U.S. in a teardrop trailer
*Catch fireflies in a jar
*See an orca whale in the wild
*Invite my whole family to stay in a snow-covered cabin one Christmas
*Take AcroYoga and aerial yoga classes
*Write on my walls
*Take an eco-tourism trip benefiting elephant conservation
*Adopt a rescued cow
*Perform in a feminist, body-positive burlesque show
*Get a tattoo of a phoenix feather on my shoulder
*Start an art collection of local artists
*Host a weekly dinner party of simple foods with nothing but games, conversation, and candlelight
*Have hammocks, porch swings, and all other manner of hanging furniture
*Volunteer in a vegan soup kitchen
*Help paint a mural
Danielle Orner is a writer, actress, motivational speaker, yogi, vegan, cancer survivor, and amputee. Diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen, she spent a decade getting scans, surgeries, and chemotherapy treatments. Three years ago, she decided to take an active role in her health researching anti-cancer lifestyles. Currently, she is cancer-free. She doesn’t wait for the six-month scan to tell her she can start living. She’s too busy making impossible things possible. To learn more about Danielle, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.