by Jennifer Paros
recent introduction to the proverb, ”The dogs bark but the caravan
moves on” left me considering what might be keeping my
caravan from moving on, in terms of my creative work and my life.
Metaphorically, despite the barking of our own thoughts, others, or
situations, we can always go forward - but sometimes I forget this
and feel stuck.
easy to fall into the habit of thinking I am held back because of
conditions or people. But these ideas are barking dogs. I am, after
all, the thinker of my own thoughts. In truth, I am no more obliged
to buy into any particular thought than I am to embrace the latest
trend, purchase something for three easy payments, or answer a
customer survey. The caravan moves on – no problem – if I let it.
I go to write or create anything, I may have thoughts of time
shortage, capability shortage, pressure – a lot of
“I can’t.” But the only thing standing between me creating
something new or not is where I place my attention. If it’s on
those dogs, I’m limiting myself and I’m not leading the caravan; if
I’m leading the caravan, the sound of the barking dogs is soon in
knew for certain that although my body might be limited, it was my
spirit that was unstoppable.
her Ted Talk, Janine Shepherd, a former Australian Olympic cyclist,
describes being hit by a utility truck while on a training ride in
the mountains. She broke her neck and back and was left a partial
paraplegic, unlikely to walk again. Janine left the hospital
weighing eighty pounds, medicated, catheter-ed, and wearing a
plaster body cast. But in her darkest hours, the hours with which
we’re all (at least) somewhat familiar, the hours in which the dogs
bark the loudest and the volume of fear is high, she healed and
Janine Shepherd had no control over her accident or over the state
of her “broken” body. All of this was real, but what allowed
her to move on from that reality was her choice to be led by her
internal power, rather than thoughts of her limited power over the
challenge was to give minimal attention to conclusions about her
current condition and act as if there was more about herself and the
situation she couldn’t yet see. This stance allows us to
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2013
from that which appears impossible. By withdrawing our attention
from what seems outside us or has been done to us, we place it back
within us – where new ideas reside, and, in turn, potential
and a new path.
The inside life is the real life.
-- George Pransky
is no prescription for transformation, no map or to-do list.
Instead, the way is personal, accessed through internal attention.
Janine Shepherd’s focus shifted from her “broken body” to what
cannot be broken within—the spirit. From there came a new
direction: learning to fly. Working with the current physical
conditions but not limiting herself by investing in judging those
conditions, she became a pilot.
Though we talk about our “spirit being broken”, sometimes what we
call spirit is the ego aggrandizing its perception of itself
as wounded. The ego is about self-image -ideas we have of
ourselves, not our true selves. The spirit is the energy behind all
of that. It’s been likened to the electrical energy that makes the
lamp work when we plug it in. The lamp is a lamp because we’ve
thought it up and built it, but the only thing that makes it work
is energy. And energy doesn’t break and neither do we.
asked about being banned from all future competition for doping
during The Tour De France races, Lance Armstrong said he expected
punishment but not, “a death sentence.” For Armstrong, not
being able to compete seemed like his end, destruction,
because his identity as competitor had consumed his
attention, and without it there appeared to be no “him”. His sense
of self had formed from the outside-in, but with attention to the
inside, he will find a self that is unbreakable and move on.
okay for things to break; it helps us remember what cannot be
broken and reconnect us with where our power and authenticity truly
reside. In life and creative work, the barking, both internal and
external, can get loud but when the focus remains within, the
caravan can always move on.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.
Please visit her website at