“The modern world has left many people feeling empty, anxious and lost…”
Charlie Ambler has been dipping his fingers and toes in pies since his teens. Well, not literally for the freaks and geeks out there. He dabbles in various topics of self-growth, meditation practices and creative expression. He has freelanced for the likes of VICE, Sneeze and Forbes and continues to grow his qualifications alongside an honest and genuine personality.
The founder of Daily Zen, an online blog and twitter account exceeding over 300K followers, Charlie promotes self-awareness and self-identity. He keeps it short and sweet, expressing his interest in living/coping in the modern world and the constant internal battles we have with ourselves. Without taking the role of a spiritual narcissist or sitting on his high horse, he translates a gentle truth through self-reflections.
Put Daily Zen aside and Charlie becomes the owner of an online apparel store, Strike Gently Co. Inspired by ancient artwork and imagery, conspiracies and capping over the dread of existentialism, Strike Gently Co. offers quality pins and patches, cosy blankets and tees. The brand collaborates with a series of artists, keeping customers smiling with their constant new arrivals.
Charlie Ambler, 25, currently living in New Orleans.
What are your achievements?
I work for myself running Strike Gently Co, an apparel company, and Daily Zen, a blog. I guess if I feel like I’ve achieved anything, it’s living my life basically on my own terms. I’m not doing what I thought I would be doing, but in a lot of ways it is my ideal life.
Describe human nature in one word.
People generally tend to embody contradictory impulses. We want growth, but we also want consistency. We want change, but we like routine. No one individual is ever statically ‘one thing’, and even people who seem similar on the surface are often extremely different on an individual basis. Our ideas often bounce back and forth between various opposing extremes. Or mine do, at least. I think humans are always in flux, always evolving in various ways, and always a bit confused.
What was the initial spark that drove you into meditation practices and self-growth?
I’ve always been a hyperactive and anxious person, which has helped my work ethic but also causes a significant amount of unnecessary stress. I meditate, read and write not to try to stop my anxiety, because I don’t think it’s a curable thing, but to try to look within myself and find strategies that suit me. Daily Zen has been pretty much a charity platform since it started; I try to share my ideas with people and encourage them to inquire, meditate and actively engage with their lives. It’s sort-of like a support group. I share stuff, other people share stuff, and there isn’t a whole lot of judgment, shockingly, seeing as it’s all online. People who write self-help stuff are popularly judged as being perfectionists or holier than thou, but if you speak to them they all readily admit their numerous flaws. People who are naturally well-adjusted don’t write self-help blogs. So it helps me and the audience, and I value that back and forth.
What is your vision for Daily Zen?
I like Daily Zen most when I can just post a few tweets a day or write a few blog posts per month. If it’s too high-pressure it tends to negate itself. I have a book coming out with Penguin early next year and if it goes well I hope to write another. Ideally, Daily Zen will remain as it is for the foreseeable future, where I can share insights with people, get feedback, and then also work on longer-term publishing projects.
When did you decide Daily Zen was going to be a book?
It was actually suggested to me by a friend, who connected me with my agent,George Ruiz, who is an incredible guy and was able to get me a book deal. The process took a couple years to come to fruition, and during that time I decided to self-publish a book of my collected essays from Daily Zen. Doing that helped me sell a new idea to publishers once they started to express an interest. That book is coming out in around 6 months and is an interactive meditation journal of sorts.
What topics do you find yourself cycling back to?
The two most important topics for me are actually very separate. One is the idea of living life on one’s own terms. I think it’s the meditative approach to life; it’s basically taking things into your own hands and trying to be completely and utterly honest with yourself and others about who you are and what you’re doing, and also being open to change. And secondly I try to juggle the idea of being engaged with the world and ‘mindful’, while also thinking for oneself. My platform is on Twitter, so I see a lot of people from various ideological backgrounds of all shapes and sizes who are clearly viewing everything in their life through a political or religious lens, which doesn’t make anyone any wiser. Everyone from centrists to liberals to conservatives to socialists to alt-right guys to atheists to Catholics, and even self-proclaimed internet Buddhists, as I like to call them. They all try to engage with my content through the lens of their ideology. So one of my common topics is this sort of autonomous thought, where you give up a part of yourself and your freedom to believe in some specific doctrine. That’s what Zen originally sought to overcome, and that’s an important part of what I try to write about. It’s basically, “Remain wholly your own person, and remain open to the world.” I do not consider myself a Buddhist.
Why is there an urge to express ourselves and to be heard?
I think it’s equal parts of genuine curiosity and vanity. We want to share a unique perspective and get others to listen, but this is often overshadowed by our desire to get attention or to be lauded for what we’re saying. The urge is good but how we decide to express ourselves is more important. You see this especially intensely today, with everyone sharing their opinions with the void, basically, on the internet. It’s a funny impulse. And it’s a catch-22 for me, because I know that I like the attention, but I also get psychological value from the work.
Have you always had a strong sense of identity?
Fundamentally yes, but I’m only 25 and I’ve gone through plenty of phases of thinking I’m a certain way on the surface, and then having an experience that made me realise I’m actually quite different. That happened to me in college with my political identity, realising that I was a lot more conservative than I had previously realised, at least compared to my extremely one-sided environment. And with business, too. I think taking risks and immersing myself in various pursuits helped me realise what I like, what I dislike, and what makes me feel like myself. The biggest obstacle was trying to be “cool” or liked. As soon as I stopped trying to do those things, I figured out who I really was. And my relationships improved as a result. Standing up for your true self is very important.
What inspires you to write about self growth and awareness?
It’s mostly tracking my own thoughts and progress, and realizing that writing is my hobby and something I love, so I might as well share it with others. I think it’s the same impulse that spurs someone who plays guitar all the time to start playing shows. When you work hard enough at something, eventually it feels very satisfying to share it with others. And it makes you deeply appreciative of others when the response is positive, or at least active.
Do you think modern society influences younger generations to reject the idea that people have flaws, inevitably creating unrealistic expectations?
I agree completely. I think the present-day cultural climate, while good-intentioned, is immature. It often appears to be just a front people use to hide themselves from their own insecurities. We airbrush our own ids and psyches the same way magazines airbrush stretch-marks off of butts. If we were compassionate and honest with one another, we could understand both our flaws and our gifts more realistically, and grow together. Instead, people seem to be hiding their flaws, or worse, parading them as gifts, and this contributes to a general confusion and narcissism in the culture. I think it also makes people very isolated from one another. When you sympathize with others on false grounds, that is really the ultimate way to alienate yourself. Your heart knows it’s fraudulent. And when you fetishize your own weaknesses or pretend to be perfect, you tend to ignore activities and new pathways that could really provide beauty and value in your life.
Being the founder of Strike Gentle Co. you would be working with a lot of artists. What are some of the pros collaborating with artists?
I love the process of communicating ideas to an artist and seeing them use their skillset to transform ideas into visuals. The process for my company is very simple, since it’s just me and I only produce stuff that I like. But the process of working with my main illustrator, whose name is Nemanja Bogdanov, on ideas and watching him improvise and take my feedback, it’s remarkable. It’s extremely fun. I can design and compose images, but I am not a draughtsman, so being able to communicate visual concepts to someone and then trust them to bring them to life is super cool.
And the cons?
It’s mostly pros. The only con I can think of is that my taste and my ideas are often very weird and outlandish, and sometimes I’ll be excited to release a design that I’m in love with, and then no one buys it. But that’s a small price to pay for complete creative freedom! I’m ok with that.
Who are your house artists?
The only full-time illustrator is Nemanja. I work with other people occasionally, but I mostly like working with him because he understands the aesthetic of the brand and is a very kind and reasonable person to communicate with.
Does SGC help connect you to your creative side?
Yes, a big part of my day is sourcing old imagery from the depths of the internet, like medieval designs to turn into pins or Buddhist tapestries to convert into blankets. I used to do that stuff just for fun, so being able to integrate that habit of collecting images, working with artists and designing variations of found imagery helps me flex my creative muscle a bit.
Where do you put most of your energy into?
Physically, packing and shipping all the orders from Strike Gently Co. Mentally, answering customer service emails. And spiritually, doing lots of reading, meditating and going for long walks. I really enjoy being lost in thought. Or being lost in non-thought during meditation.
Any future projects?
Nothing super new for now. Just the book. And I’m moving to Los Angeles in the summer for a change of pace, which will be great for Strike Gently Co because it will put me in close proximity to some of my favourite companies and artists.