I’m a location independent woman, consultant, and writer on a quest to see and learn about as much of life as I can. I believe it’s possible to live one’s fullest life on our own terms, and I plan on proving myself right.
The picture you see here is of my long time friend and once business partner, Kofi, who passed away April 10… just two days before I write this.
As I lay awake last night thinking about this young husband and father of 2 who was so unexpectedly ripped away from us far too early, there were many lovely phrases and metaphors I thought to write about him. Sitting here in the light of day though, none appear.
For some reason here in the daylight his passing feels so much more potent. Perhaps with eyes open one is forced to see the gap left at the loss of a dear friend. A friend whom I talked to most every day for 5 years. An individual whom I looked up to in so many ways I can’t even begin to quantify them.
During our interview, one of his mantras that stayed etched in my mind was “I try to meet people where they’re at”. That was Kofi through and through. He was usually the best and smartest person in the room, but he moved through this world with unparalleled humility, kindness, and patience. He never tried to make anyone be anything they weren’t. He took everyone into his web of love no matter who or what they were.
He was love.
I could never live up to his example, but of course he never expected that. As I watched him construct his best life, my awe of his character grew exponentially. His life was about finding his purpose and he dedicated himself to this quest with such quiet, unabashed self determination that you hardly knew how hard he was fighting to make his life his.
His wife and his children were his life’s prize. Family was more important than anything to him, but throughout his life he didn’t lose himself to the otherness surrounding him. He used that otherness to enhance himself. It was a beautiful process to be present for.
And, present he was… at least in my life. In truth, I have no idea why someone so great stayed in my life, as I only saw myself as lesser than and flawed. But, Kofi? Kofi saw a brilliant light in me which I know I need shine in his memory.
I count myself as one of the luckiest people in the world to have been able to spend so much time to learn from and love this great man and friend. I can’t yet picture my life without him, for it seems one full of darkness and desolation.
When I think of saying these last sentiments to him, all I can picture is his smile warming my face and him saying something to the effect of, “You’re too hard on life, Hubert. It’s not that serious, after-all. Just go after your passions with all your might and have fun in the process. Live hard, love hard, and meet people where they’re at.”
I write to you today from a hotel near the Portland, OR airport. I sit here, alone; feeling my loneliness deeply. In part I believe this loneliness stems from turning in my car (Liam) yesterday, and living at a random hotel for two days carless and companionless. I think another part of me has always been lonely, since the early days of my youth. Finally, I think this loneliness is a result of a lifetime of living in my head and not in my heart.
I didn’t intend to write about my loneliness today. In fact, I haven’t even processed and internalized in consciously yet. But then, before I began writing, I read this piece; one I had noted for a future post.
The notes I made were about community and how I think that’s what I’ve been missing in my life. I’ve mentioned this topic a few times in different ways. For example, when I was writing about my times in Oakland and Tucson, I mentioned my awe at neighbors interacting with each other. After reading the above article, I began realizing community was what I was witnessing at play (and craving) during these adventures.
When I was observing said community, I resonated with my loneliness. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see I was reminded how I “spent my days focused on optimizing myself: Endlessly working and improving, on a permanent quest to do as much as possible in the unforgiving confines of 24 hours.”, and how much I was losing myself in this quest.
In these moments I was also coming to understand how “community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none,” and now see how my behaviors and choices began to shift.
For example, the other day, after a wonderful afternoon wine tasting with a friend, I had a few hours before a dinner in town. On the advice from said friend, I decided to stay in town, grabbing a coffee and walking by the river, as opposed to driving the 20 minutes back to the house to “get something done”. I was rewarded with some awesome inspiration:
Another example is when I was walking the dog I was sitting in Bend, OR. Her longer walks were in the mornings before work; walks which I found myself wanting to rush through to get back home to start my day. I often noticed myself rushing, and then paused to slow down. One day during this practice I was rewarded with yet another beautiful scene:
A final example is when I spent another day wine tasting (Hey, I like wine. Who’s judging?) with a second dear friend (and host who I was staying with back in The Gorge). Much of the day I focused on being present, being vulnerable and open, and just laughing a lot. Here take a look for yourself:
It doesn’t take much to see how closely community and loneliness are tied together, and it’s no wonder then that this quote from the author stands out for me.
“What does help lonely people is to educate them about how our brains can turn in on ourselves, causing us to retreat into self-preservation mode and be on high alert for social threats. This naturally makes people engage less and feel even more lonely, creating a vicious cycle.”
I feel this last quote in my bones. I identify with it, and I am ready to admit it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking (if you know me). “Lis, you are surrounded by great people who love and care about you all the time. How can you be lonely?”
Maybe it’s because by living in my head instead of my heart, my “brain turns in on itself” and I “retreat into self-preservation mode”. Meaning, I hold back so much of myself that I don’t actually feel connected to others.
Of course, I talk with others and provide all the care I can muster to those I love. But, there are more times than not where I choose not to share what’s truly on my heart for fear of exposing myself as different, weird, not acceptable, not lovable… the list goes on.
I think there are many of us out there who do this. In fact, I think most of us in my culture do this. That’s why I think we see so much loneliness out there in the world.
Being honest, I’m tired of this loneliness eating away at me. I also know I’m being called to the solution each and every day of my journey, and that said solution is always accessible.
Each time I talk with a stranger, make a new friend, or speak with an old friend the answer to my loneliness appears. It says:
Reach out. Be Your True Self. Connect with Your Community.
Tomorrow I head back East where I’ll strengthen my resolve to do just that.
It is no coincidence my wanting to write about the last of Tolkien’s 6 Keys of Happiness (as defined in this text) today. Yesterday I spent the day mentally, and materially, preparing for yet another upcoming transition. This time I cleaned out the several bags I’ve been storing in my car all these months in preparation for Phase 2 of The Lis Experiment.
It was a big day.
It made all the other days I wanted to write to you about feel small, actually,
It was a day that made my return to the Pacific Northwest earlier this March seem almost insignificant. The strong emotions from that day, and the days which have followed, were so easy for me to access before yesterday’s car clearing.
I will try to bring them back as I type to you now.
The next day was my birthday, and I awoke to snow and cold, but I also awoke to the comforts of being back in a quaint place.
That morning I walked the familiar street to a coffee shop about a block away. I ordered a delicious coffee and breakfast, and when I was told the total was $4.50, I almost sobbed with joy! A cup of organic, fairtrade, freshly roasted coffee plus a huge bowl of healthy, breakfast goodness for under $5? It’s been too long PNW… too long.
After breakfast I walked back to the motel, and as I walked, I soaked up the beauty surrounding this small town; a place most people I know back East have never heard of. I also soaked up the idea that a small town could eat well and provide quality coffee for a fair price… just sayin.
My pleasant return to the Pacific Northwest was magnified by my coming to Bend. Upon my arrival the homeowners offered to take me out to dinner for my birthday! I also ran an errand to the local Chase Bank where the business banker was genuinely kind to me (not the case in bigger cities, at least for me). Best of all I got to meet Lily who would be my roommate for the next few weeks, and she was super nice too!
The awesomeness and kindness I felt then was just day 1. The days which have followed have pulled me even further back into the comfort of a PNW life. There is beauty everywhere I go.
There are funky buildings which remind me of my small town roots:
There is art everywhere:
Bend is a small, but an incredibly walkable city. (despite the off-season snow you see in the pictures!) I’ve walked to lectures at the library and meditations at a local environmental center. I’ve strolled to dinner with friends downtown, and walked my way to happy hour at the coffee shop.
There is also an entire project here in Bend aimed at bringing more kindness and joy into the lives of its citizens:
All of these happenings were overshadowed, however, by my cleaning out process. As I write this now, I can see part of that cleaning out feels like I’m leaving the PNW, a place where I’m completely safe and secure and happy, for good.
Part of getting rid of the last of my material things also feels like I’m being ungrateful for the life I’ve built over the past 20 of my years. It feels like I’m saying “Meh… nevermind”, to who I’ve been.
I’ll be honest, I’m tearing up as I connect with these realizations now.
Not only does it feel like throwing a life away, but it’s also the not knowing what life you’re going to get in return. I’m scared, excited, heart-broken, and yet… I’m free.
Somehow, this all comes back to Rediscovering Wonder. In fact, I believe going through this process of clearing and cleaning one’s life, but also noticing the differences in that life along the way, is what the authors, and Tolkien himself, mean by the term. I also believe its a key part of the path to happiness.
The authors point out that “one of the happiest characters in The Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly Tom Bombadil”. His happiness, they claim, is due to his “renouncing all control” and his “taking delight in things for himself”.
They point out how Tolkien’s elves are creatures who never tire from the pleasure they derive from the simplest of things: “poetry, songs, gazing at the stars and sunlit forests”.
They also describe a sort of sensory awakening Frodo (and others) has along his journey. In one such example he touches a tree’s bark, and for the first time really feels what it is, a living being. From this he feels a deep sense of wonder and delight.
The authors then tell us that Tolkien defined this “regaining of vision through the clearing of the soul”, Recovery. They describe this process as “regaining a ‘clear view’, cleaning our windows so to speak”. They explain that it is this process which allows us to Rediscover Wonder in the simplest aspects of life, and of course by rediscovering this wonder, and connecting to ourselves and the world around us, we find happiness.
I can see clearly (pun kinda intended) now that this Rediscovering Wonder process is the one I’m on. I see clearing out physical, mental, and emotional energy is necessary to view and cherish the beauty of a small town or a side road or a person who just wants to take you out to dinner to celebrate you. I see how much these moments fill my cup instead of drain it.
I also see how no part of the process is more important than the other. The process IS the journey IS the destination. The world, and we as creatures in it, is constantly changing, but if we can see wonder in the simple things, we can bring happiness and fulfillment to any life experience.
Lastly, I see that we Rediscover this Wonder, not only by clearing the windows, but also by looking through them intently and seeing with a true eye what we’ve cultivated.
Finally I see that having the courage to clear all that we’ve cultivated away and starting from scratch again and again is one big step necessary to the whole damn process.
I delayed writing this post today. I sat down to write about 40 minutes ago, but distracted myself until now. When I returned to my draft document and the topic for today which I had written there, I found myself unsurprised at my procrastination.
The topic, “post about the last day in Oakland”, reminds me of the delightful time I had while hanging out with Fay in the mountains.
Writing this post makes my leaving even more real, I suppose.
I have tons of fond memories of my time in Oakland. The homeowners are my new found soulmates/friends. The neighborhood was lovely, and the neighbors were kind. I was taken aback by being in a neighborhood where the neighbors knew each other, actually. I realized after 10 years in New York, a few short stints in Washington and Maui, and life on the road, I hadn’t experienced neighbors who were up to date on each other’s lives in awhile. It was nice.
On Fay and my last walk through the neighborhood, I was deep in reflection mode. As I walked past the houses and through the trees, I felt this sense of homesickness. I was unsure if this feeling was because the area was like where I grew up (NOTE: It is in some ways similar, especially the nature and wildlife. In other ways it is very different, like the types of people and their professions.), or if it was my anticipating leaving such a safe and secure place.
I let this feeling settle over me, and as I continued to look around I realized I was SEEING everything differently. I started to have this sort of perspective when it came to the details. Here let me show you the pictures I was compelled to take:
It was as if the rainy day was bringing out colors I hadn’t seen in a long time. Maybe something in me was waking up. Maybe my homesickness was also fear of leaving a place where I felt I’d had time to develop said perspective. Maybe I’m scared to lose it.
What perspective did I develop while in Oakland? I’ve said it a time or two in my videos… I need to go hard at finding myself. With this perspective, and the work I started while on this sit, I’ve already felt an easing of the pressure I’ve put on my life. This easing is my ultimate goal.
During my time in Oakland, I even put together a mighty mission statement to focus me further! Check it out:
I am a striver challenging myself by participating in as many life experiences as I can to develop my life strategy so I can communicate my findings. My dominant personal strengths are discipline and communication, and I am to methodically uncover how I can live a present, authentic, and fun life so that I can share this knowledge with others.
A lot happened in my short 3 weeks in Oakland, and I will miss the inspiration and the surrounding energy. The good news is one of the homeowners agreed to be my writing mentor! This means not only will my writing improve, BUT I’ll also get to talk to her more often… woohoo!
My thinking is with regular updates with my mentor, and by focusing in on self, I should be able to keep the energy and perspective from my time there alive.
As I write this last part, I’m reminded of a line from the note said mentor sent to me yesterday:
“Fay misses you. We miss you. The house misses you. But I don’t feel you’re so far away.“
After writing this and reflecting further, I don’t feel so far away now either.
I’m sure there are a number of you out there who have been waiting patiently for the next installment of The Six Keys of Happiness as defined by Tolkien and as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy.
Wait no more, dear reader! Today we’re talking about key #5: Cherish and Create Beauty.
When I sat down to write this post my mind was focused on cherishing beauty. I thought about sharing more regarding all the beauty I’ve seen while on the road, and about how cherishing those moments of beauty has greatly contributed to my happiness.
Of course this sentiment is true, but as I re-read this section of the aforementioned book, I realized something I haven’t internalized.
That being how the happiest characters in The Lord of the Rings stories are also the most creative. They aren’t just beautiful to look at, they also contribute to the world’s beauty. I stopped at this realization, and took it in. Could the following equation be true?
Being creative = increased happiness
I should note here I’m of the school of thought that all of us are creative. I wasn’t always an attendee of this school. I actually didn’t realize HOW creative I was until I started this phase of my journey. Further, I have to admit that it’s true; my increased awareness and practice of creating has a direct correlation to an increase in my overall happiness.
I should also note that I don’t believe I’m creative in the societal sense of the word. I don’t paint, sculpt, or draw. I take pictures, but I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. I even joke how I don’t use colors in my consulting practice outputs.
But, I am pretty damn creative.
I’m creative in the way I use words (NOTE: Creative doesn’t necessarily mean skilled, haha.) I’m creative in how I put together my living situations. I create new ways to make the pets I sit more comfortable with me. I also create new friendships wherever I go.
Creating beauty isn’t always visual. You may create and share a beautiful feeling or idea. You may work in an ugly place, but your encouraging words at work may create a beautiful moment between you and a co-worker. Creating beauty is something we can ALL do. It’s something we should all do.
Why? Because in these moments of creating we become so absorbed and present that all of our suffering falls away. It is in these moments of unselfconscious absorption we find ourselves the most happy!
So take a moment today to think about the beauty you create in this world. I’m serious. You only need 5 minutes or less. Then, go forth and make more beauty. I bet you’ll be happier for it.
Much like any dream, I didn’t remember it until something clicked the next day. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was that clicked, but I do remember where I was when I woke up.
It was my first morning in the Oakland mountains, and I was staying in the guest room until the homeowners departed for their trip. The day before I had arrived from Arvin, CA, and I suppose even the drive and my arrival are worth noting.
I woke up on a Sunday morning in Arvin; a small farm labor community right outside of Bakersfield. I had a peaceful night sleep, but the morning was a bit frantic. After a cold shower (long story), and spending most of the morning looking for a decent cup of coffee, I hit the road.
As I drove I began wondering what my time in Oakland would be like. I’d be spending 2 days with the homeowners before they departed, and I couldn’t help but wonder about them too. We’d exchanged some great emails up to this point, so I imagined them as fun, kind, and just good.
My mind also wondered about little things. I thought about the book club I’m a part of, and reminded myself I’d need to buy the next book because I was number 295 on the waitlist for it at the library. Then a curious thought entered my mind, “I bet you they’ll have it at the cottage.” I chuckled then released the thought.
After 4 hours I made it to the beautiful Oakland Hills. I was rewarded with an amazing neighborhood I was sure I had dreamt about many times over the years, as well as a cozy looking cottage to stay in. Here I have some pictures for you:
I walked into the house and met one of the homeowners. After saying our hellos I looked on the desk and sure enough, there was the book for the book club! I gasped, then explained my excitement.
The homeowner explained that the book was a gift given only a few days ago. She didn’t think they were taking it on the trip with them, so I was free to read it while they were away.
Thank you, Universe!
When the other homeowner arrived we quickly picked up from our email exchanges. I learned she was a poet who taught writing at the local university for many years. I marveled at both of their stories and at their life together. I felt so completely at home; meant to be there. I also felt really grateful.
Going to sleep that first night I didn’t expect such an impactful dream. Though to be truthful my dreams have been much more vivid and telling over the past months.
In the dream a dear friend from my youth and I were talking like the old days. Though, I had the since that I was the age I am currently. At one point, he picked me up and started throwing my up in the air in a playful way. I was terrified. My heart races remembering it now.
“Put me down. I’m scared!!” I shrieked.
My friend continued to laugh as I wrapped my arms around his neck trying to regain control. “Of what??” he shouted through kind laughter.
“To let go!!” I blurted out.
He laughed again, taking all the seriousness out my distress. “Don’t be afraid of THAT!”
I closed my eyes.
I woke up and promptly forgot the dream until later that day when something triggered its memory. I let reprieve fill me.
My past was giving me permission to let it go. No, I was giving myself the permission.
Here I sit on a couch in the Oakland mountains soaking up the morning Sun, listening to the soft din of wind chimes, and adoring a cup of coffee. As I turn my attention to writing, I think back on the road trip I just took from Edgewood, NM to this mountain retreat in Oakland, CA. There were several themes from the trip I wanted to explore in today’s post… hopefully I can do them justice.
To begin allow me to show you the route I drove earlier this February. (NOTE: Who chooses February to do a roadtrip? I suppose I did.)
I should note the route I took was a long, lonely drive across the New Mexico mountains, into the lands of the Navajo and Hopi, then up into the canyons and mountains of Arizona and Utah. Finally, I made my way down into the desert of Las Vegas and through one last mountain pass to Arvin, CA, a farm labor community just south of Bakersfield. Once back in California, it was an easy trip up Interstate 5 and into the Oakland mountains.
That was the external view of the trip, and dare I say it was the “simple” part to describe. Here, let me share some pictures from it before we get into the deeper stuff.
The internal part of the trip is a bit more challenging to talk about, but since this is a No Judgement Zone, I’ll give it a go. Here are some of the themes I considered along the way:
Theme 1: Trust that the universe has your back
Shortly before the trip began, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. I began reading it a few days before I set out and found the advice provided to be necessary as I traversed the terrains.
I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but driving in bad weather is probably one of my biggest fears. This is especially the case when I’m driving alone. So, when the day before I left Edgewood my friend, who is a pilot and always has his eyes on the weather, showed me some radar maps indicating a storm was going to move through the exact area I’d be driving in, I began to freak out.
“Am I going to be ok?”, I asked him as I looked at the swirls of blue, yellow, and orange. “Yep you’ll be fine. Just be aware”, he assured me.
His words and insights were helpful, but they didn’t halt my fears. That night as I was reading the above book, it seemed to read my mind. The lines I read talked about noticing your fears. It suggested that when you do, instead of feeding them, give them up to the universe and thank it for the lesson that having the fear was sure to bring. I used this mantra consistently as I drove, and sure enough my anxiety calmed.
As I traveled through New Mexico then Arizona, no bad weather found me! Then I got into Utah. It started as rain, then before I knew it I was in the mountains of Zion National Park in the midst of a snow storm!
I held my fears close, but before I let them overcome me, I let them go telling myself, “I’m a woman from upstate New York. I’ve got this! Thanks for the lesson, Universe. I release my fears.”
Shortly thereafter, I made my way safely to the inn I’d be staying at that night:
This theme of trusting the universe had my back extended well beyond weather. I used the mantra to release my fears around staying alone in motels and AirBnBs, and even smaller fears and anxieties around trying new places and things.
The more I trusted, the less I worried. The less I worried, the more present I could be. The more present I was, the more beauty I saw.
Trusting in the Universe is something I plan to take with me for days to come!
Theme 2: There is so much more to this world than me and yet I’m one with it all
This is a big concept with a crappy title, BUT it rang oh so true for me throughout the trip. As much as I got stuck in my own anxieties and fears, I was able to recognize that life happens around and without me. I was also able to reflect on how even though life is happening around and without me, I can still connect with it, and others, in a very real way.
For example, when I arrived in Gallup, NM the first night, I stopped to grab an afternoon coffee to revive me. The man working at the coffee shop was so incredibly kind to me, and he treated me as if we’d known each other for years. He correctly guessed I was on a long drive, and when I left with a delicious coffee in hand he said, “Enjoy that coffee, and safe travels!” I considered how the man’s entire life took place without me, but how in that moment it was just him and I.
I rolled that juxtaposition around until I arrived at my Airbnb for the night. The host greeted me and before long we were exchanging life stories. She told me about her time teaching on the Navajo reservation, her time in The Peace Corp, and her current life in Gallup. We connected on politics, life, and work. Before the night was through we said our goodbyes as she would be at work before I woke up the following day. Again I considered how close we were in that moment and yet how we’d never meet again.
The next day I entered the Navajo Nation, and stopped in the capital of Window Rock, AZ. Here I took in the veterans’ park, and the nearby museum.
All the while I was here I felt isolated and yet surrounded at the same time. As I came upon memorials and exhibits detailing the Navajo people’s past, I teared up as their pain seeped into my veins. Yet, I knew known of them.
As I left the museum, the woman at the information desk who had helped me called out, “Thanks for coming today! Have safe travels and a great day!” (NOTE: Everyone along this trip wished me a great day. Not sure if that’s a West thing or not.)
I made the long trek to Page, AZ where I stayed on the “street of little motels”.
While putting my goods in the community refrigerator that night, I met a man from Minnesota. He and his wife were in the area to escape the winter. Between this conversation and the one I had with the owner the next morning, I felt I was in the company of old friends. At the very least I was in the company of like minded individuals.
After each of these conversations where I was so highly connected, I’d go back to my room where I sat… alone.
I’m unsure where this second theme takes me from here, but even thinking back on the experience helps me feel connected in some way.
Theme 3: Meditation, I need more of it
This is another big one. Driving 20 plus hours over 6 days alone gives one a lot of time to think. And, given that I’m on this current journey that stems from a need to understand myself and my world further, I had a lot to think about.
I didn’t have a lot to think about because I’m on this journey. I had a lot to think about because there is so much I’ve chosen NOT to think about over the years. Instead I’ve chosen the path of distraction.
As I drove mile after mile and had interaction after interaction, I chose not to be distracted. I turned off the radio and sat with my thoughts.
I reflected on my fears. I thought about how scared to be alone I am, and about how the fear makes no sense because I’m alone a lot without peril. I thought about my family’s fears of being alone, and considered that maybe I had absorbed these over the years. I thought more on how I had defined myself by my past, my family, my community and never really defined me for myself.
One night I decided to restart my meditation practice. Though, instead of mindfulness practice, I decided to let my mind roam. I called this contemplation instead of meditation. As I was thinking on how I’d never defined myself, I asked myself the question “Who am I without my past?” over and over again.
Eventually a vision came to me. I saw before me many versions of my current self, all dressed in different outfits and all standing, but at different heights. The Russian doll metaphor came to mind.
There I was surrounded by all my selves, and I continued to ask the question:
Who am I without my past?
Finally, the shortest Lis pushed the others aside, stepped forward, and said, “I’m here! I always have been! You’ve just been ignoring me all this time.”
The vision was a powerful one and I sat with the energy awhile longer. When I came back to myself, I vowed to try to help that Lis grow, and I saw carving out this self reflection, contemplation, meditation time was the way to do so.
As I wrap up this piece up, I’ll admit I’m a bit deflated. My coffee is almost gone, the Sun has moved, and the wind has stilled. I’m left with just me, these words, and my guess at what you’ll think of them.
Once again I find myself alone and surrounded. Once again the Universe calls me to trust in it, and once again I call on myself to trust in myself.
All these insights, from one little road trip.
Let’s be honest, it was a hell of a trip… am I right?
I write to you from Springdale, Utah (NOTE: This is the 38th state I’ve visited! Only 12 more to go!). I’m sitting at the Bumbleberry Inn nestled in the mountains of Zion National Park. Allow me set the stage for you:
I meant to be hiking during this time, but considering the amount of rain pattering outside, I’m inside writing instead. It’s ok, though. I like the writing as much as the hiking.
In all honesty, I’m conflicted about what to write today. I WANT to write to you about my Albuquerque to Oakland road trip and about how it’s been up to this point. I want to tell you all the growing and learning I’ve done along the way. I also want to share the pictures of the amazing sites I’ve been graced with, and I’d like to tell you the stories of the people I’ve met. But, I can’t do it.
Trust that I WILL share all of this with you someday soon, but know that now, as I write to you from this rainy place, I realize I want to write about those things because they are easy to write about. I also see I NEED to write about the hards things right, for this is a life practice have ignored for far too long. So, writing about the hard things wins out today folks. Here goes.
When I left the East Coast less than a week ago (I write to you on February 14th. I think this will go live a week or two from now.), I left with a heavy heart. As I spent the next few days in New Mexico packing and preparing for the road trip, the weight didn’t lessen. Curious, I reflected back over the past several weeks and recognized I’d been existing in a somewhat depressed state.
For example, I saw that when I looked toward my trip to Europe this Spring, I felt no tingle of excitement. When new (and amazing!) work opportunities were presented to me I saw them as chores instead of fun challenges. When others asked about my journey, I shrank back from sharing it. During these reflections, I saw how inward facing I had become.
As I brought all of this to mind, I also remembered a discussion I had with a friend while in NYC. He was worried about my lack of direction in this current journey, and frankly so was I.
Hell, why don’t I just say it… so AM I.
I should note that this lack of direction is not new. I realize to many of you who know me this may seem inaccurate. I probably seem very sure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I assure you, this is very much not the case. I’ve said it before. I’ve spent my entire life building the person I think I should be, instead of accepting and loving the person I am. (NOTE: I think alot of us do this. I know I’m certainly not alone in it. Anywhos, back to the story.)
All of these reflections continued to weigh on me. Then, yesterday as I was driving the 4.5 hours from Gallup, NM to Page, AZ, I could take the weight no longer. I started offing it at the Navajo Nation Museum. There I did something I’d never done before. As I walked among the artworks, I stopped in front of each one and asked myself, “How does this piece of art make me feel?” Funny enough, I even answered myself too!
I’m embarrassed to say it, but this self talk was new to me. You see, when you’re busy making a life you think you should have, you don’t ask yourself what life you actually want very often, or at all. Instead, you observe what makes other people happy and try to use those things to make you happy. But.. you never ask yourself if you’re actually happy. Doing so would be sacrilegious! The jig would be up!
Needless to say, I felt a little lighter when I left the museum.
I got back into my Subaru, Liam, and continued the trip. Through mile after mile of reservation land, I noticed small shifts. Instead of listening to music or podcasts the entire time, I took breaks to think. During these breaks I asked myself questions and when I couldn’t come up with answers I sat with the emotions and frustrations.
All of this helped to ease the weight a tad bit more.
Later that evening, I opened up to another friend about everything. I shared with him, quite unwillingly, how lost and lonely and WRONG I’ve been feeling. I also shared with him my reflections from the day; the biggest being me realizing this situation didn’t happen to me. I created my own discontent through my false actions over the years!
I worked to not judge myself. I told myself that whatever I’ve done in my life it’s been to keep myself safe, and I haven’t hurt others in the process. The only real person I’ve hurt is myself… and I’m tired of DOING that. The weight is just too heavy.
For the next two hours, said friend broke down his own journey to me (yet again… thankfully he’s patient). He reiterated to me the keys to finding and loving ourselves which is the only path to releasing a life you think you should live, and gaining the beauty of a life you actually want. It’s the only true way to get rid of the weight I’ve been carrying.
The keys to doing this are so very simply in concept, but putting them into actions is “the work” that everyone keeps talking about.
Here are the keys to life happiness as explained to me by my friend. Hold on to your hat!
1. Practice acceptance
2. When you’re unable to accept, ask yourself “why” until you have the answer.
I want to tell you I’ll be able to have a consistent practice of acceptance by the time I’m done with this phase of my journey, but I can’t.
What I do know is that nothing external can make this consistent practice happen. It doesn’t matter how spiritual the practice nor how beautiful the landscape it’s done in. It doesn’t matter how many interactions I have with strangers, nor how many fun facts I learn. I could take all the yoga classes and go to all the meditations in the world and it still wouldn’t guarantee a consistent practice of acceptance to lead me to self love.
This is what I considered as I drove the miles today; the knowledge that it is due to one thing and one thing only if I succeed in this self love endeavor. That thing is both the challenge and the reward. It is the question and the answer. It is the origin AND the destination.
Last week was a hell of a week. There’s no other way to say it. It was one of those weeks filled with a lot of bad, but also a whole lot of good. It was a week which I’m grateful for, despite its challenges. In fact, I’m grateful for it because of its challenges. Finally, it was a week where I was able to clearly see why I was sent back to NYC for a spell, and this fact renewed my faith in the universe having my back.
The week started off normal enough. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon when the action began. I was working away and getting a ton of great work done when I opened up my laptop to a black screen. It was a problem I had seen many times before, and I solved it by closing said screen and opening it again. Success!
I began typing something which I’m sure was incredibly profound, and that’s when my screen decided to go black. Poof! There were no other warnings, nor were there signals of dismay. Just me and my black laptop screen.
I was unable to get the screen working again, and this led me to call tech support. Tech support quickly realized they were unable to help me, but since I was here in good ole New York I was able to get an appointment at the Apple Store an hour later.
The genius at the Genius Bar, Mike, was very helpful. His mantra was, “I want customers to pay the least amount possible.” This mantra led to us trying a whole bunch of options, and then to me leaving the computer at the 5th Avenue store for a couple days. After the 48 hours were up, I was happy to report I left the Apple Store not only with a working laptop, but with zero effect on my wallet. Thanks, Genius Mike!
The next day, Thursday, I received a call from my mother telling me her mother, my grandmother, had passed away. It was somewhat unexpected. She had fallen a week earlier and, being a woman of 92, was unable to recover from her injuries. It was sad news. The funeral services would be the next Monday, and as chance would have it, there was a train that could take me from where I was staying in New Jersey to the town where the services were being held. Score a second sorta win for the universe!
Saturday came, and as I sat with my thoughts and emotions enjoying a calmer weekend, I received a text from a dear family member who lives in Massachusetts. He, his wife and their children were going to be in New Jersey later that day. We were able to meet up and spend several loving, fun, and uplifting hours together which helped to renew my spirit. Here’s a picture of the event:
The weekend past and Monday appeared. That morning I boarded the train upstate and a few hours later made my way to my parents’ car. On the ride to the funeral home I sat in our shared energy. I listened to them argue about the things people who have been married 46 years argue about, and all the while considered … well let’s just say I considered a lot.
What stands out now, is the sound of the church bells. I can still hear them, actually. I can still feel the finality of their song. On the flip side I can also still feel the love that stood side by side with the grief. Yes, for once I was able to make the room to feel them both. I can also still feel my realization of their shared space, along with my realization of the spaces I’ve refused to share. But, all of this for another piece.
After the services and a reception with the family, I boarded the train back to New Jersey. I took the next few hours to reflect on all that happened in the past 8 days. I had lows of varying degrees, but each was followed by a high (i.e. a fixed for free computer, time to grieve and love with my family) which would not have been possible without my being here in New York. I reflected on how the universe whispered to me to go to New York while I was housesitting in Charlotte, and I saw how if I hadn’t listened to it things could have been much harder.
I saw how extensive my family and support system is. From precious time with friends made family, to new insights about how my family loves, my cup was quite full.
Finally, I saw how through the light comes darkness, and how through the darkness the light becomes that much brighter.
I saw a lot. I experience a lot. It was a lot.
I mean, I DID tell you it was a hell of a week, didn’t I?
The past week or so has been another tough one full of anxiety, worry, and doubt. I spent much of my time letting my thoughts spin out of control and got very little sleep in the process.
What was I spinning over? The usual culprits (money, career, etc) were certainly present, and they were accompanied by an overarching concern of not having “a plan” for my life.
I thought I had a plan once. I was going to progress in my career, buy a home, get married, etc, but then there was the realization that many parts of said plan weren’t mine. With this realization my current life path began.
As I unfold myself then let go of, add to, and realign parts of my life plan, there are moments were I feel quite exposed. These are the times where I haven’t yet filled the gaps left by letting go of parts of the old plan, and these times leave me feeling uber vulnerable… and scared.
When this fear and vulnerability arise (as they did this past week), I question everything and find myself only focusing on these reactions; hence the spinning. I think we all do this as we go through the process of rediscovering and realigning with our true selves, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less challenging.
One line of thinking that I brought to the surface this week was how I choose to see life as final and of two dimensions. I view circumstances as “If this, then that” as opposed to “if this, then maybe a whole lot of different things”. I think this two dimensional thinking is a thorn in my progress. Since it came to the surface I’ve been working to release it and extend my perspective.
The line of thinking came to the surface in two ways. First was a response to an email I sent a dear friend updating her on my current thinking on letting go of old friendships. She replied to said email with, “I’ve tolerated some people who were on their path and maybe not in a great space and you know what, I don’t know what to tell you, I was in the same place I think at your age, just be okay with it, you’re fine, people are fine, life is fine!”
Second, a friend was telling me about a similar discussion she had recently. Her response to the parties present, who were bringing up similar thoughts to the ones I was having, was “the friends you’re letting go for now may very well come back”. I know this idea seems obvious, but it’s something I’ve never considered. I never thought that all that I’m letting go could indeed return to me one day in a new, improved form (or in a old, unimproved form).
I believe it was having these insights, then targeting my two dimensional thinking, which allowed me to start to calm down enough to push past my fears and dig deeper. I mustered up the courage to share my story with yet another friend whom I was visiting in Connecticut.
He responded to my fears of not having a plan with the usual advice. I need to figure out myself first. I need to continue to question everything about what I like, what I don’t, and why. By doing this, by exposing my core, I can create a plan and walk a path that is true to me. Until then any plan I put together will be someone else’s plan, and following someone else’s plan will ultimately cause me angst and discontent.
I question why this message is so hard for me to keep in mind, but now I think I realize it’s because that journey of letting go, having gaps, and needing to fill them feels so scary and daunting.
What if we just let the gaps stick around for awhile? What if instead of rushing to fill the gaps, and focusing on the fear of never having the gaps filled, I focused on the possibilities of filling them? What if I choose the positive and not the negative?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but given how much sleep I lose to the former, I think I’m finally ready to try the latter. Here’s hoping.