Matthew McConaughey’s Purge

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Matthew McConaughey wrote something for Medium titled “13 Lessons Learned.” My favorite of the 13 was the last one. I’ve copied it below. (You can read the whole piece here.)

The 13th Lesson tells a story of how he handled becoming famous after A Time To Kill came out. It involves a 21-day walkabout of sorts and a lot of throwing up.

I mean, maybe the guy’s full of s–t, because McConaughey is an actor, after all. But McConaughey’s fascinated me ever since I read a story about what he does while driving around. I can’t remember where I read the story now. Some Googling didn’t help. But what I remember is that McConaughey had this van, and a studio microphone, and a recorder, and he’d go for long drives and just ramble out thoughts into the mic and record them. Thinking. Wondering. Sort of like those Lincoln ads.

Say what you want about that, but to me it made McConaughey seem like a guy earnestly seeking something. What, exactly, I don’t know, but it seemed like some sort of truth. (Really wish I could find that story now.)

Maybe I’m wrong. But I haven’t forgotten that. I loved that. I love people who are looking for truth.

So maybe the story McConaughey tells for his 13 Lesson isn’t true. But I like enough to hope it is:

13. Why 13? Unlucky # right?

Well, when did 13 get the bad rap and become the mongrel of numerology? Thirteen’s never done me wrong. In fact, 13 has been a pretty lucky number for me, lemme tell you how:

I’ve always taken these 21 day trips by myself to far off places where I usually don’t know the language and nobody knows my name. They’re adventures and they’re a purge, a cleanse for me. Like a 21 day fast from attention, from all the things I have in my well appointed life. They’re a check OUT, so I can check IN with myself.

See how I’m doing, be forced to be my own and only company, to have a look in MY mirror. And you know what can happen when we do THAT — sometimes we don’t like what we see.

In 1996, right after I got “famous” from a film called A Time to Kill, I headed out on one of these 21-day walkabouts — this time to the jungles and mountains of Peru. The sudden fame I’d just gotten was somewhat unbalancing. My face was everywhere, everyone wanted a piece of me, people I’d never met were swearing they “loved me” — everywhere I went, there I was, on a billboard, a magazine cover. It was just weird. What was this all about? What was reality and what was bullshit? Did I deserve all this?” were all questions I was asking myself.

“Who was I?” was another.

Now, there’s always an initiation period with these trips. An amount of time that it takes for the place to INITIATE the traveler. The time it takes to disconnect from the world we left, and become completely present in the one we are traveling in…For me, that initiation period usually last about thirteen days. Yes. Thirteen hellish days until I’m out of my own way. After that, the trip is smooth sailing.

Well, it was the night of the twelfth day of my 21-day trip. I was settling into camp, I’d already hiked 80 miles to this point and had a three-day trek to Machu Pichu ahead of me.

I was sick of myself. Wrestling with the loss of my anonymity, guilt ridden for sins of my past, full of regret. I was lonely — disgusted with the company I was keeping: MY OWN — and doing a pretty good job of mentally beating the shit out of myself.

Grappling with the demons on this night, I couldn’t sleep. All of these badges and banners and expectations and anxieties I was carrying with me. I needed to free myself from them… Who was I? I asked myself. Not only on this trip but in this life. So I stripped down to nothing. I took off every moniker that gave me pride and confidence, all the window dressings, the packaging around my product (heart). I discarded my lucky and faithful American cap, stripped off my talismans from adventures past. I even discarded my late father’s gold ring he gave to me that was made from a meltdown of he and my mom’s class rings and gold from one of her teeth.

I was naked. Literally and figuratively. And I got sick. Soaked in sweat, I threw up until there was no bile left in my belly, and finally passed out from exhaustion.

A few hours later, I awoke on this thirteenth morning to a rising sun. Surprisingly fresh and energized, I dressed, made some tea and went for a morning walk. Not towards my destination Machu Pichu but rather to nowhere in particular. My gut was still a bit piqued from last night’s purge, yet I curiously felt pretty good: alive, clean, free, light.

Along a muddy path on this walk, I turned a corner and there in the middle of the road was a mirage of the most magnificent pinks and blues and red colors I had ever seen. It was electric, glowing and vibrant, hovering just off the surface, as if it was plugged in to some neon power plant.

I stopped. I stared. There was no way around it: The jungle floor in front of me was actually THOUSANDS OF BUTTERFLIES. There, in my path. It was SPECTACULAR.

I stayed awhile, and somewhere in my captivation, I heard this little voice inside my head say these words, “All I want is what I can see, and what I can see, is in front of me.”

At that moment, for the first time on this trip, I had stopped anticipating what was around the corner, stopped thinking about what was coming up next and what was up ahead. Time slowed down. I was no longer in a rush to get anywhere. My anxieties were eased.

A few hours later I returned to camp and packed for my continued journey onto Machu Pichu. I had a bounce in my step, new energy. The local Sherpas I was traveling with even noticed, calling out to me, “sois luz Mateo, sois luz!!!” — meaning “you are light” in Spanish.

You see, I forgave myself that morning. I let go of the guilt, the weight on my shoulders lifted, my penance paid, and I got back in good graces with God. I shook hands with myself, my best friend, the one we’re all stuck with anyway. From that morning on, the adventure was awesome. I was present, out of my own way, not anticipating next, embracing only what was in front of my eyes, and giving everything the justice it deserved.

You see, I crossed a truth that morning. Did I find it? I don’t know, I think it found me. Why? Because I put myself in a place to be found. I put myself in a place to receive the truth.

So, how do we know when we cross the truth?

I believe the truth is all around us, all the time. The answer, you know, it’s always right there. But we don’t always see it, grasp it, hear it, access it — because we’re not in the right place to.

So what do we do?

First, we have to put ourselves in the place to receive the truth. We live in an extremely noisy world with all kinds of frequencies coming at us — commitments, deadlines, fix this, do that, plans, expectations — and they all make it hard to get clarity and peace of mind. So we have to consciously put ourselves in a place to receive that clarity. Whether that’s prayer, meditation, a walkabout, being in right company, a road trip, whatever it is for you.

Schedule that time to be in a place to receive the truth.

Now, if we hear it, if it becomes clear, a truth that is natural and infinite, then the second part comes…

…which is to PERSONALIZE it. Ask how it works for you, how it applies to you personally, why you need it in your life, specifically.

…If we do THAT, then comes the third part:

….having the patience to internalize it — and get it from our intellectual head and into our bones and soul and our instinct. We can’t rush this part, it takes time.

And if we get that far. We received it, we personalized it, we internalized it. If we make it that far, then comes THE BIGGIE ….

Having the courage to act on it. To actually take it into our daily lives andpractice it, to make it an active part of who we are and live it.

If we can do that, then we have what I believe is Heaven on Earth.

The place where what we want is also just what we need. I mean that’s the ticket isn’t it!!? That’s where I want to live!!

So while we’re here, let’s make it a place where we break a sweat, where we believe, where we enjoy the process of succeeding in the places and ways we are fashioned to. Where we don’t have to look over our shoulder because we are too busy doing what we’re good at. Voluntarily keeping our own council because we WANT to. Traveling towards immortal finish lines. We write our book. Overcome our fears. We make friends with ourselves.