Ori Gutin, courtesy of the author

Ori Gutin on Having a Sense that What You Do Every Day Has Some Greater Meaning than Just Your Own Human Existence

An interview with Ori Gutin from The Write Stuff series:

Ori Gutin is an up and coming picture book author who just released his debut title, The Butterfly Who Flew in the Rain. As a student working towards his Masters in Counseling Psychology and a career as a youth therapist, Ori passionately believes in the power of stories to help create more emotionally aware, expressed, and resilient children. Outside of writing and grad school, Ori is an Ironman triathlete, a Vipassana meditator, and an avid traveler. Ori currently lives in Berkeley with his partner, and a quirky little cat named Furby. You can see more of Ori’s work at his website: www.orisstories.com.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Figuring out where to put my attention, and what experiences to pursue as the timer on my life slowly, and inevitably, ticks on towards death.

If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?

Not to believe anything with absolute certainty, whether about yourself, others, or the world. I’m only a little bit over a decade past 15, and even in the last ten years I’ve had what appeared to be foundational beliefs about myself and life shattered numerous times. It’s easy to see things from a lens of certainty and permanency, as if nothing could possibly happen to change what you think, but from this inflexible mindset, you are ripe to miss out on opportunities to grow, expand, and learn. It is not a sign of weakness to express uncertainty in a plan, a belief, or an opinion, but rather a sign of wisdom and maturity – a recognition that there are unknowns at play that you have not yet begun to consider, and that you do not have all the answers. Be humble. Stay open.

I write this advice not from the vantage point of someone who has mastered this skill, but rather as someone who still struggles with this readily, and will likely do so for a lifetime.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Yes, because I have created a life for myself where the currency of success is not wealth, but rather my ability to make others smile and laugh, pursue experiences that are in alignment with my highest values, feel compassion for every being on Earth, and contribute to the collective good of the world, not my own personal gain. In other words… I am broke, but I don’t give a shit, because I live a life filled with meaning.

Why do you get up every morning?

For the potential to impact someone’s life in a positive way. For the companionship of the people I love most. For the opportunity to witness Earth’s beauty. For the desire to appreciate and make the most of this precious human life I’ve been given.

What’s wrong with society today?

Oh man… I could go on and on here… but instead, I will share the words of someone far wiser than me, who sums it up more succinctly than I ever could. Without further ado, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbor.
We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,
but have less real communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room.

Where do you go to find sanctuary?

The forest. Preferably one in the mountains, but really any forest will do.

What is your fondest memory?

When contemplating this question, I was struck by how little of my life I really remember, and yet how important each new moment feels while I’m in it… I think it’s impossible to instate one memory above all others because they hold different types of value. Nonetheless, one that comes to mind is a camping trip I took with my dad and dog when I was probably 10 years old. I remember shooting cans of shaken up soda with an airsoft gun and watching them explode, carefully jumping from rock to rock moving upstream in a creek, as my dad watched on while hiking the path alongside, and spooning Cody, my yellow lab, in the tent at night so both of us would stay warm. That was a damn good weekend.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A complete transition to a 100% renewable energy-based global economy. An end to the Tibetan genocide. Many President of the United States that are not old, white men – or young white men, either, for that matter! And if I had to ask for just one more tiny thing, I’d say a global shift in consciousness that enables people to value relationships, experiences, and nature, over a constant need for newer, better, and more expensive consumer products. Is that too much to ask?

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is the bursting forth of some element of one’s internal landscape that could no longer remain externally unexpressed. It is 100% necessary because without it… my god, how boring a life would this be?

What is the relationship between your identity and your desires? Perhaps related, perhaps not: why is sex (un)important to you?

Subconsciously I desire many things, but thanks to my human intellect and ability to prioritize, I do not pursue them all. Thus, my identity is the outcome of repetitive conscious refinement of my desires to only include what matters most.

What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.

When it comes to clothes, I am a minimalist expressionist. I value having few clothes and keeping it simple, yet I also value finding the oddest clothes at the thrift store with the most in your face patterns. I have also often teetered back and forth with the Steve Jobs idea – just wear the same thing every single day, so I don’t have to worry about it, and can free up my mind for things that matter more. Maybe one day…

What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?

For the last two and a half years I’ve been working on my debut children’s book, The Butterfly Who Flew in the Rain. The story is derived from my own experiences struggling with depression, anxiety, and suicidality, and carries a message of acceptance and resilience in the face of obstacles. After two years of editing and production, it launched just a few months ago, and now the majority of my free time outside of school and work is dedicated to the not so fun side of writing – marketing. When I finally have more time to get back to writing, I want to continue editing my manuscript for a picture book on unconditional love titled, Would You Still Love Me Just the Same?

Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

This is not the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, but rather the strangest scene I’ve ever been a part of: When I was in Gokarna, a small beach town in the Indian state of Karnataka, I took a tab of LSD, befriended a crow, and spent the entire night walking around barefoot with the crow on my shoulder. On one particular street I found myself on, at say 3am, there was a single flickering streetlamp staving off the darkness. As I walked down this street, a young cow began slowly click-clacking its way towards me in the opposite direction. As we approached each other slowly and our heads turned to meet each other’s gaze, I nodded hello. In that moment, I felt something mystical happening. I don’t know what, but I felt this eerie connection between the three of us. Three lost souls walking alone down a street, with nowhere to go and nowhere to be, just wandering. I felt like I saw myself inside of the cow, behind his soft eyes. How different are we from one another really? I stared at the cow and he stared back. We passed each other and continued on our separate ways, and our separate lives.

What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?

My last moment of awe was this summer when my partner and I hiked for roughly 10 miles, got lost, trekked off trail through snow fields, and then finally came upon the bluest blue mountain lake surrounded by jagged cliffs, crumbling grey boulders, and a vast view of the green and brown spattered valley below. The lake was beyond beautiful, but it was the experience of losing the trail, and feeling utterly surprised when we finally found the lake, that made it a true moment of awe.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The smell of freshly made soil from a decomposing log that you encounter on a quiet walk through the forest. The smell of a campfire still on your clothes a few days later. The smell of a fresh blueberry pie cooking in the oven. The smell of my dog after a long time apart. The smell of anything pickled.

What are you unable to live without?

A sense that what I do every day has some greater meaning than just my own human existence.

If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

A year of professional mountaineering training, and then fully equipped teams with the best gear possible to support me in summiting the highest peak on each continent.

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