Get Personal

In this my third post on Tolkien’s Keys to Happiness as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, I’d like to take a few moments to add some commentary to the author’s third key to happiness:

Get Personal

Throughout the chapter, the author continuously refers back to the hobbits as exemplars for living this happy life. He starts section number 3 with

“Hobbits are a clannish and highly sociable people.”

He then goes on to further describe the extents of their loyalty to and interactions between friends. He points out how deeply friendship is valued in the hobbit community, how this contributes to their happy go lucky hobbit life, then compares Tolkien’s description of these values to those of real life philosophers. He states,

“The importance of belonging to other people–of forming close, supportive attachments–is something many philosophers have noted as well.“

Friendship is important, we all know this. Further, many of us define our quality of life based off the friendships we have. Being on the road has been a journey not just through time and space, but through reflections on my own relationships.

I have had countless friends, both old and new, extend their encouragement and support. Several have reached out to schedule regular catch up chats with me, and many continuously reach out via email or even, *gasp*, real mail to stay in touch.

I’m lucky.

I’ve also met many wonderful people on the road. I was saying just the other day that I’ve yet to meet someone who has been genuinely unkind to me. Kinda crazy given how the world is portrayed to us nowadays, but I assure you it’s true.

Getting personal to me means exploring and deepening both types of interactions; friend and stranger. I’ve allowed myself to do so by being more vulnerable, open, and honest with both sets of individuals. In return I have not only gained new knowledge and perspectives, but have also increased my ability to get to know myself.

As this process unfolds, I find I have more confidence and increased feelings of self worth. I’m also able to extend more love and compassion to both myself and others.

I believe all of these characteristics are what contribute to happier and more fulfilling moments. And, as we all know, more happy and fulfilling moments make for a more happy and fulfilling life.

Score another for Tolkien and his happy hobbits!

Experiencing Oneness

Being in New Mexico has brought a new thread to my reflections. After leaving the magic of the Gila National Forest, I drove North for El Morro.

I should mention that before I actually LEFT the forest, I took some time to explore the nearby Catwalk Trail. A friend came through this area not too long ago and told me it was worth a stop. After driving through several small brooks on the way up (NOTE: the heavy rains cause a lot of runoff apparently. I thought I was in the desert, but I was way wrong.) I pulled in to the area about mid-morning.

Gila National Forest Sign
Entering the Catwalk Trail.

I noticed three motorcycles parked in the lot, the only vehicles around. As I walked to the trailhead I saw their owners, 3 older gentlemen reading about the history of the area. I asked them, “What’s the word on the road?”

“Which road?” one of the men responded.

The three of us chuckled and I told them of my travel plans for the day. They were taking a similar route North, but were planning on splitting off back into Arizona instead of heading East like me. I bid them safe travels as I began walking the 2 mile trail.

Brook
I enjoyed walking along this brook a bit.
Gila National Forest Mountains
I couldn’t stop looking up at these mountains as I walked.

About .5 miles in a deep fear gripped me. What the hell was I doing walking this trail alone while leaving my car unattended in the parking lot and filled with all my important belongings? I practically ran back to find Liam safe and sound just as I had left him.

I got in the car, then continued the trip north, stopping for lunch at a cafe about 45 minutes away. (NOTE: this was the only “local” restaurant open.) When I walked in, who did I see but the motorcyclists. “Well, you made it this far”, one of them said to me. “And, so did you!” I replied.

This was my last interaction with them, but I still felt connected to them in a way I can’t yet describe. I left the cafe with this sensation.

Several hours later, after passing maybe a total of 10 other vehicles along the way, I arrived in the El Morro area. Here I would be staying at another amazing AirBnB rental. This time I would be in an RV parked on a property with some amazing views.

RV
Where I stayed during my time in El Morro.
View of mesa
View of the mesa from the RV.
Sunset over the mesa
Sunset view from the RV.

The owner, Jeff, met me and showed me the RV. He was concerned with me staying warm given that the temps were supposed to get down to 27 degrees Fahrenheit that night. I assured him I’d be fine. We talked for several moments there after, and the feeling I had earlier that day when I was around the bikers returned.

I had a sound night’s sleep, then woke up for a morning of meetings. When these were finished, I set out to hike the El Morro National Monument. I arrived at the site, and, since I hadn’t done much research beforehand, went up to the visitors’ center to figure out a game plan. The park ranger greeted me, gave me a map, AND provided me a guide to the inscriptions left on the famous Inscription Rock.

NOTE about the rock from Wikipedia: Travelers left signatures, names, dates, and stories of their treks. While some of the inscriptions are fading, there are still many that can be seen today, some dating to the 17th century. Among the Anglo-American emigrants who left their names there in 1858 were several members of the Rose-Baley Party, including Leonard Rose and John Udell.[3] Some petroglyphs and carvings were made by the Ancestral Puebloan centuries before Europeans started making their mark. In 1906, U.S. federal law prohibited further carving.

Front of the visitors center.
Approaching the visitors’ center.

I took a few moments to peruse the small museum attached, and upon entering saw this sign:

Pueblo prayer
This quote got me.

Immediately tears flooded my face. I have no idea where from or why they appeared, but I accepted them and kept walking.

I decided on the longer of the two hikes available at the park. I would see both the Inscription Rock trail, as well as hike up to the pueblo town dating back to 1275 A.D. It would be a longer hike than I anticipated, but I had time so why not? Here are some images from the day.

Inscription Rock
The side of inscription rock. I was in awe!
Top of the rocks
The top of the rocks I would eventually hike too.
Looking up at the monument. NOTE: the black bits are from water that runs down the sides.
High rock wall.
A view looking up from the side of the rocks.
petroglyphs
Check out the ancient petroglyphs!
inscriptions in rock.
See how there is an inscription from 1801. Pretty amazing.
petroglyphs
More petroglyphs and inscriptions.
cactus bushes
The fauna of the high desert.
Stone path
Notice the lines which mark the path. Apparently they brought a jack hammer up to create a trail. Crazy right?
Mesa in the distance.
More views of the surrounding area. Hell yeah I hiked up this high!
Canyon views
A view down into the canyon.
Brick ruins
This is only a fraction of the city they uncovered. People lived there from 1275 – 1400 AD.
Stone ruins
Looking at the ruins from another angle.
Circular stone ruins.
Another part of the city.
Stone ruins
I loved looking at the mesa in the background and imagining life here all those years ago.

As I arrived at the ruins of the town, I noted my isolation. I thought about how I had just climbed alone up the backside of this mountain, then somehow navigated my way across the rocks to this very spot where about 1500 people lived some 750 years ago.

The feeling from the interactions with the bikers and the AirBnB host appeared here again in this sacred feeling place. I took a look at the feeling more closely. I asked myself what it was. A whisper of an answer appeared in the back of my consciousness:

Oneness

At that moment I saw flashes of human life fly across mind. The people who lived here, the bikers on the road, my housing host, me; no matter how different our lives seem, we are all made from the same atomic elements, the same biological tissues, and the same sacred spirit. Our perceptions and beliefs may differ, but we all need to eat, drink, and sleep to stay alive. Those who lived hundreds of years before us needed the same things. How amazing. How humbling.

I stood alone with this clarity for several moments before hiking my way down, then heading back home. When back at the RV I witnessed one last sunset as I reflected on the day.

Sunset over the mesa.
One last sunset to amaze me.

As I thought about it I asked myself; If we’re all one, was I really standing up at that site all alone?

My answer? No, I don’t think I was.

What’s in a Moment?

On my last night in Tucson I was lucky enough to have dinner at the house of some new friends. (NOTE: These are also friends of my RVA friends.) My time with them was (too) short, but it was impactful. As we sat outside discussing just about everything, I felt the need to get my anxieties off my chest.

I described to the two of them the doubts I’ve been having. Most specifically, Are the short relationships I’m making while on the road a reflection of me only wanting to have “good” moments as opposed to hard ones with friends? Am I missing out on that other side of the person to person experience? Will I ever be happy somewhere and with someone?

You get the drift.

The one friend stopped me dead in my tracks. She described to me how she had a recent conversation with their daughter, the topic of which touched heavily on my current existential woes. Her response to both her daughter, and now me, was simple. And, as many simple responses are, it was quite profound.

She described a story in which her and a friend were discussing memories and moments in life. They determined that even though they may not remember every story of their life exactly as it happened, the moments still impacted them for the remainder of their days. She encouraged me to consider this simple wisdom for myself:

All we have is a moment. Enjoy it.

Of course I am paraphrasing this friend’s wisdom which I’m sure was much more eloquent and detailed, but this sentiment is what I carried with me. As soon as she said this all the Buddhist lessons I encountered over the years came flooding back. This was the fact I have been overlooking. I felt it stir me.

When I left town the next day, I left knowing I had the support of others to encourage me onward. The road took me into the mountains to the beautiful state of New Mexico. Being from the East Coast I had no idea what to expect from this state, but to say I’m stunned by all it has to offer would be an understatement.

This emotion was underscored by the AirbBnB rental I stayed in on my first night. Unfortunately, I only had one night here, but even that was enough to fill me with comfort and inspiration. And, most importantly, it granted me the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had.

I pulled up to the property to find the owner, Beth, working on one of her many art projects. Here, let me share it with you:

artwork
I was mesmerized by this piece.

She welcomed me and stated I would be the first AirBnB guest to walk across this new installation. Woohoo! We began chatting and I found myself quickly recapping my anxieties from the night before. You all know how she responded:

A moment is all we have. Live it up!

I guess that was all the universe had to tell me on the topic, and I figured I may as well start listening.

I started by taking a tour around this beautiful property; my jaw dropping at every turn. This woman had the ability to make anything and everything look beautiful. Her attention to detail was simply amazing, and the feeling her work gave me was greatly needed. Here let me share the pictures already:

Mountain view
A view of the property including the mountains in the distance.
Mountain views
More mountain views.
Tree view
Views of the trees surrounding the property.
horse
There were even horses onsite.
outdoor kitchen and living room
The outdoor kitchen and living space.
Tea set
I loved this tea set.
Metal peacock.
Some art marks the path.
Cabin door
The front door of the cabin.
Desk and chairs
The workspace in the cabin.
Spiral staircase
This is a staircase the owner and an artist friend built. Enchanting!
Front of small building
The front of one of the galleries on site.
Gallery
A gallery interior. Pretty amazing, right?
outdoor living space
The outdoor kitchen and living area at night.

As I sat outside enjoying the cool mountain air, I took in Beth’s life. In this small town of maybe 150 people, tucked away in the Gila National Forest, she had people stopping by to help her with art projects or help her fix something or other pretty much all afternoon. She had galleries onsite with incredible local art which people knew to come see. I noted the dream like quality of my experience there, and also noted how much I loved the quaintness of it all.

I reminded myself there are probably just as many downsides to her life than any other life, but since I’m living moment by moment at this point, I pushed those thoughts aside and simply enjoyed the good vibes.

The next day I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new day. It was the best I’ve ever felt waking up in the morning… I have to be honest. I packed up my gear and got on the road for another 4 hours of driving up to the El Morro area. Along the way, the sentiments of the past few days rang loudly for me, and I finally connected with what my friend was expressing on that Tucson night.

These moments I experienced over the past few days were short indeed. Further, I may never experience the people or places again, but the fabric of them has shifted my perspective. Since perspective is everything, they have shifted my life.

So, what’s in a moment? Seems like everything is, no?

Making Friends with Strangers

I had such a wonderful day this past Sunday, I find myself anxious sitting to write about it. I fear I won’t be able to write a piece which expresses the immense amount of gratitude I feel. I’ll try to explore my reactions and reflections along the way, but to start perhaps I’ll just tell you about the day.

I started it as I do any Sunday, or, rather, any day here in Tucson. I took care of Sunny, did yoga, and had a lovely coffee-filled breakfast. I then left the house and headed towards Old Tucson where I was meeting a friend of a friend who lives here in town. (NOTE: This is a friend of the friends I stayed with while in Richmond, VA this Summer.)

I was excited for the excursion because I knew I’d not only meet someone new, but I’d also get to experience something new; always a win-win for me. While I was driving the 20 minutes west the friend texted saying she was going to be a few minutes late. Instead of arriving at the park early, I decided to pull over at a scenic point to finish my coffee. Here was the scene I got to sip to:

Desert view
What a view.

I got back in the car and drove the rest of the way to Old Tucson. I should tell you, I didn’t research the place at all. Thus, it was quite the surprise to find out most of the western movies my dad spends hours on end watching were filmed at the location! Unfortunately, I’ve had to sit through many of these movies in my day, but fortunately this provided a pretty awesome experience as I walked around the park. Here let me share some of them with you:

Gift shop front.
The Last Outpost gift shop.
Movie camera
One of the cameras set out front.
Old Tucson entrance
The entrance to Old Tucson.
Movie list
Just a small subset of the movies that were filmed at Old Tucson.
Movie set
The sheriff office set.
Movie set
Set for “The Hanging Man” reenactment.
Old west store fronts.
The Barber and Dentist here in “town”.
Old west hotel building
The hotel in Old Tucson
Old west store.
The mercantile store set.
Fake grave marker
These grave markers in the cemetery cracked me up.
Actors on set.
The actors play out the last show of the day.

The friend arrived shortly after I did and brought with her her boyfriend and his sister. The four of us thought we’d only spend a few short hours at the park, but we found we were having such a great time talking, exploring the park, and hearing about the stories filmed there and life in the Wild West in general that we ended up staying until closing!

In talking with my new friends I learned so much about them and their life experiences. I felt my knowledge of the world grow tremendously in only a few hours. Plus, being at the park with them was great!

We saw live reenactments of scenes from films, we road rides, we experienced mines… it was awesome to be around great people again! We also talked about how much we loved the experience of the park. What it came down to was the people who worked there CARED about the park and the patrons. Even though it was an act everyone was putting on, it genuinely felt GOOD to experience it. Yeah, it was a place of commerce, but it didn’t feel overly commercialized. It was an endearing place.

Before we left the park the boyfriend and I were sitting on the bench outside of a gift shop chatting while we waited for the others to purchase their wares. He turned to me and said, “You know, I’m surprised by how great today was. I really enjoyed the time here at the park and meeting and talking with you. I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either, but when good folks get together, good times are bound to happen”, I replied.

We sat in the quiet of the next moment simply appreciating the time the four of us had together that day.

Eventually we four bid adieu and I headed back to the house to take care of Sunny before heading to another event full of people I didn’t know; the Halloween block party thrown by the neighbors next door.

It was another welcoming place where I had the opportunity to talk to so many new people about their lives. One person was the father of the neighbor. I sat and talked with the 86 year old man for quite awhile.

He told me about his life; how he left Mexico in the 60s then came here to make a new life for himself. He worked several jobs before landing one with the state of Arizona where he earned the pension he now lives off of. When I asked him what he did and still does during his 23 years of retirement, he didn’t flinch in sharing with me the simple things in life that make him happy. These included cooking, working around the house, and making crosses for those he loves and for his church. Here is a picture of the ones he made for the homeowner whose house I’m staying in:

Wooden crosses
Crosses made by José.

I walked back home after the event and sat down in silence. I reflected on how strange it was to live out entire relationships with new friends, the beginning and ending, all in one day. I suppose this is life on the road. I WAS still saddened by having to leave the loving energy of the day, but I reminded myself that I’ll be taking the energy with me wherever I go. This continues to help me work through the sadness.

Another thought that helps me is in thinking of all of the strangers I’d miss out on making friends with if I chose to stay in one place. Now THAT’s something to be sad about indeed.

Feels Like Coming Home

I arrived in Tucson last Thursday prepared for another arrival in which I’d share a night with the homeowner. When I drove through the city limits I immediately felt something utterly strange.

I felt comfortable.

It was the first time in my adult life I remember feeling so at ease in my own skin.

When I drove into the neighborhood I saw it was deeply contrasted from the pomp and circumstance of my Orange County, CA arrival. This Tucson hood was a more simple place, and it felt way more welcoming.

mountains against a blue sky.
Mountain views from the neighborhood.

I parked in front of the house and walked up to the door. I was surprised to see a woman of 70+ years opening it. This is the homeowner?, I thought to myself as I calculated the size of the dog, her living alone, and her being on a house sitter website at all. I caught myself going into an act to try to charm her, and I immediately stopped myself.

When I stepped into the kitchen and looked about the modest home, I initially felt disappointment. Shortly thereafter, after dropping the act for a moment, the disappointment started to morph into another sensation I hadn’t felt in my adult life.

I felt at home.

We walked to the backyard of the house, and I noticed a sense of recognition. Tucson reminded me a great deal of San Antonio, and the backyard brought back memories of my time there. I wouldn’t say I necessarily had visual memories flood me, but more I remembered the energy I felt while living in San Antonio. I also saw how very far away from myself I was at that time in my life, and I extended gratitude for the opportunity to find my way back.

Tree
Tree in the backyard.

As I walked with the homeowner about the house I watched her feed the dog, water the plants, and maintain the home, all the while taking my usual mental notes. I also cracked my usual jokes, and once again put on my usual charms; none of which she responded to. Not a single one. Instead she stayed in her own energy and went about her chores, explaining everything to me as she went.

I watched her with her dog. Her energy was completely calm, and the dog incredibly loving and responsive. There were no worries about his behavior or concerns about his habits. Instead it was just two beings who cared for each other living together; a deeply beautiful sight to witness.

Dog on a couch smiling
Sunny welcomes me.
Dog laying on the ground by the door.
Sunny waits at the door.

When we went to the front of her house her neighbor was putting out more Halloween decorations. He greeted me amicably from his yard, then walked over. The three of us chatted for a bit, and the neighbor invited me to the Halloween block party he and his wife throw every year. It was more than a warm welcome. It truly felt like a homecoming event.

There was no grand dinner or cocktail event that night. It was simply me and the homeowner sitting in the living room with her dog talking and watching the news. I asked her about herself; where she was from, where she was going, what she was doing here in Tucson, and I learned so many interesting facts I fear I can’t share them all.

For example, I learned she once taught on a Navajo reservation where she lived for 11 years. I learned she lived in this current house for 36 years (NOTE: my age), and that she used to teach business at the community college nearby. I also learned that this time each year she goes with a surveying team to a state park in the desert where they record Native American petroglyphs for the park record books; something she has been doing since the 70s.

I sat and listened in awe and reverence. For what I saw before me was a self-actualized individual living her best life. Yes, I was in the presence of someone who had architected their best life, and when I realized this, I saw in her a potential future Self.

I immediately realized why the universe had brought me here to Tucson; to take in her energy, her life, her example, and to drop the act. I know I’m meant to keep from my observations what works for me and discard what doesn’t. Her example is the clear next one needed to help me architect my own best life.

I’m grateful.

It’s safe to say her energy has stayed with me over the past week, and I continue to examine all aspects of it.

Despite these profound interactions, I have made some time for adventuring and sightseeing. Not only was I able to find some coffee:

Coffee shop
Coffee!

… BUT the homeowner also left me her membership card to the Sonora Desert Museum! Here are a few shots from my walk around there:

cacti
Cactus love.
cacti and views.
Desert love.
Trees hanging down.
I thought these trees were pretty cool.
lizard
I made a friend at the museum.
desert mountains
A view out yonder.
cacti
These cacti are huge!
Blue Rock
A cool rock I saw while exploring.
Cactus and Desert trails
Views from the Sonora Desert Museum.
Cactus and Desert trails
More views.
Mountains,
The view from a scenic point on my way back from the Museum.
Another shot from the scenic point.

I also made my way down to the famous San Xavier Mission:

Approaching the Mission
Approaching the mission.
San Xavier mission in Tucson.
A closer view of the mission.
Chapel bells
Chapel bells.
Mountains and desert
A view from the mission hills.
Rock with clouds in the background.
A rock against the clouds.
Lion heads at gate.
Lions mark the path.
Quote plaque at mission
Lest we forget… I enjoyed this quote.

So, it hasn’t been all work and no play. Though, one thing is for sure. Whatever it is I’m doing out here on the road is working. How do I know? Well, to feel a comfort within myself that I haven’t felt in over 30 years, that’s something to me.

In fact, that’s what this whole adventure is about.

Who Do I Want to Be?

I arrived here in Yuma, AZ Monday afternoon (I’m writing to you on a Wednesday), and was greeted by a lovely AirBnB experience. Here are some pictures to prove it:

Welcome Lis sign
I felt so welcomed by this sign!
Yuma like a local sign.
Instructions on how to do Yuma like a local.
Bed with pillows
After driving all day I couldn’t wait to get into this cozy looking bed.
Kitchen
Cooking in this kitchen reminded me of my time in NYC.

Let’s just say my choice in driving through the Santa Ana winds (and mountains) to make it here seemed a great one.

When I woke up on Tuesday, I decided to use the mid-morning hours as adventure time. I went to the post office to send a book to a dear friend, then I began driving around Yuma to see some of the historic sites. I was followed by the most uneasy energy I’ve felt on any trip thus far. (Except maybe when Cris and I stayed at a Hotel 6 in East Philadelphia on the East Coast Road Trip, but at least then I wasn’t alone.)

Little felt safe. I should say, little felt safe outdoors. When I interacted with people like the woman at the Post Office or the man at the coffee shop or my AirBnB hosts, they were all quite lovely. However, when I stopped at the city park or went downtown I felt nothing short of uneasy. Actually I was really scared.

I grappled with this fear. I shared it with others, and I also sat with it on my own. I questioned what is was I was actually scared of. Afterall, it’s not like these scenes are particularly scary:

Bridge and Mountains
I tried to grab a picture of the mountain views.
Church top and rock
A picture of the top of the Mission from Gateway Park.
Lutes Casino front.
Ok… this may look sketchy but it was in the cute old part of town.

It’s also not like I was in any real danger at any point. But yet, the fear remained.

As I worked through it, I began to see how its roots tangled themselves around my courage. I saw this, and realized how tired I am of being the scared person. If I wanted to become who I want to be, I needed to break said roots and allow my courage to take over.

So I took action. I took a walk around the neighborhood and noticed the cute houses, the school children playing soccer, and the man mowing a lawn nodding and smiling. My courage was growing, and it was encouraged on by this quote sent be a friend later in the evening:

As you think about your own path to daring leadership, remember Joseph Campbell’s wisdom: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Own the fear, find the cave, and write a new ending for yourself, for the people you’re meant to serve and support, and for your culture. Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and being afraid. At the exact same time. — Brené Brown, Dare to Lead.

Needless to say I slept quite soundly after sitting with these words.

When I woke up today, I decided on an afternoon hike a few miles outside of the town. I was set on having some time alone in nature to “sort it all out”. But, once again, I was denying entering the cave. Sure enough, when I got out to the trail, the road to the trailhead was closed. Further, my attempts to find another trail were also thwarted. I saw the sign. I needed to face my fears.

I came back to the town and decided to replay yesterday’s adventures, all the while facing down my fears and breaking apart their roots. It was an insanely healthy and progressive practice which led me to have a renewed view of my experience here. I saw myself becoming who I want to be.

Then I got the text.

One of my house sitting clients was inviting me back for a gig in the Spring. At first I thought, why not take it? I have nothing else planned?, but then something stopped me. I reached out to a friend who responded that they couldn’t make the decision for me, but if it was them, they’d make the decision based on “why they were on the journey to begin with”. Meaning, they’d decide not based off convenience, but off of who they wanted to be.

The words struck me with an unwavering truth. I’d have to turn down the gig and turn towards the unknown. If I didn’t, I’d be “delaying the risk I needed to take to become the person I want to be”, and keeping it real, I’m so of over doing that.

Leaving California

I awoke this morning (I’m writing to you on a Sunday) around 2 am… terrified. The fear gripping me was so intense it forced me out of bed to check on the cat. Finding her well I returned to bed, but sleep did not find me for several hours more. Instead my heart beat at an accelerated pace while my thoughts churned.

I saw this familiar reaction for what it was; the fear that comes from embarking on an unknown quest. I’d be leaving California on Monday after spending the first few months of my solo wandering here, and I was scared about both what was to come and what I’d be leaving behind.

For example, I’d be leaving behind scenes like these:

Purple sky at sunset.
Another beautiful Rancho sunset.
Sunset
Ok… one more
Aliso Beach
Aliso Beach
Ocean waves.
Kinda felt like I was back on Maui with these waves.

Of course I’ll find beautiful scenes wherever I go (NOTE: I’m convinced we can find beauty in pretty much every place), so I knew my fear was more that just leaving California’s beauty. I also knew I’d take whatever lessons with me that I was meant to, so my fear seemed more than that. Yes, I was still grasping and trying to hold tight to my life here.

Why?

Because I was starting to get comfortable.

Actually, I’m noticing this trend now. Whenever I’m settled into an experience, be it a house, a city, or some other space, my psyche pushes me to move on to the next. Perhaps this is due to the pace I’ve set for my self discovery, but I have to ask myself: “Why did I set this pace to begin with?”

Until I figure this out I’ll continue exploring both my external and internal worlds in anticipation of the joy the resulting discoveries bring.

Hmmmm. I think that last question has been answered, hasn’t it?

Making Light of My Troubles

In this second post further exploring “Tolkien’s Six Keys to Happiness” (as defined in the book The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy), we look toward Making Light of Our Troubles.

In the book, the authors tell us that the exemplars Tolkien uses to demonstrate this component are, once again, the Hobbits of Middle Earth. It is said these characters’ abilities to both “remain cheerful and unbowed in the face of hardship and suffering” and “find hope and beauty in even the most dire of circumstances” [1], is what Making Light of One’s Troubles is about.

When I read this, I reflect on my own journey. I am definitely much more light-hearted about any troubles I’m faced with nowadays. But, as I think more about these troubles I’m stuck. Although I’m increasingly light-hearted, I also recognize the insignificance of the troubles I’m faced with. Allow me to explain.

One recent example of making light of my troubles is when a project got canceled 3 months ahead of schedule thereby causing me to lose three months of planned income. Instead of diving into the depths of the “how am I going to make money” despair, I saw the comedy in the firing. This opened me up to seeing an opportunity for much needed rest and rejuvenation. This rest and rejuvenation opened me up to understanding how toxic the project was in the first place, and reminded me I need to be more careful about the work I choose. You see, remaining cheerful and unbowed certainly helped me through this one.

Another example involves me seeing the beauty and maintaining hope in some whacky circumstances. Here let me share that beauty with you:

desert landscape
A Joshua Tree Desert View
desert landscape.
Another shot of the Joshua Tree Desert

Despite the fear I had while driving alone through the “High Wind Speed” areas and roads of sand that is Joshua Tree, (NOTE: I likened these road conditions to those of snow covered roads… just without the slipping. Another example of making light of my troubles? hmmmm.) I remained upbeat, humble, and grateful for the opportunity to meet up with friends in such an amazing place. This allowed me to be incredibly present with the people surrounding me when I arrived, instead of stressed from the drive.

These are seemingly all good points. However, the trouble for me is the unimportance of my examples. They are so small and so very inconsequential. Yes, of course they are important to me, but as I write them all I can see is how limited my thinking is; how self-centered and selfish. I feel guilty for celebrating such small, self serving accomplishments as examples of keys to one’s happiness.

I feel ridiculous, actually.

As I sat down to write these thoughts, I questioned whether I should share them. I thought of the judgement I had for myself and how I perceived others would judge me. That judgement sounded something like:

Really, Lis? You’re ‘making light of your troubles’ story involves finding enough “courage” to drive over sand in the desert? That’s not exactly life changing. Further, if it is, what kind of small life are you leading? Certainly not one I want to continue reading about!

I then asked myself what a Hobbit would do. (NOTE: I’m SURE this sentence redeems me. How could it not?) They’d make light of this trouble, of course! They’d write the post, chuckle at the stories, and let go the guilt their ego bestowed on them. They then would practice this act as bigger troubles and circumstances entered their life. In fact, they’d practice this cycle of looking their troubles in the eye, laughing at them, then letting them go so much that soon the idea of taking life or its troubles seriously at all would scarce cross their mind.

Reflecting on it now, I see this as the point Tolkien was trying to make. In the end, no matter what your troubles look like, you look them back in the eye and laugh. And, when you do, that’s when you free yourself from their phantom embrace.

It’s only when we do this that we’re free from the anxieties and what ifs that hold us in place. Sure, most of the times we glimpse this freedom only in the short burst of a moment, but oh how sweet and happy, that moment is.


1. Bassham, Gregory and Bronson, Eric. The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy. Open Court, 2003. Print.

Making Life Mine

Leaving the central coast of California was hard. One of the main reasons is because it’s so damn pretty there. The landscape is gorgeous, the energy is comforting, and living just feels so good. I WANTED to belong in that place.

Plane trails in a morning sky
The planes draw me Southeast.

As I walked around the neighborhood and existed in its borders, my craving to call it my own grew. I observed my thoughts: Oh look at how cute and homey that house looks. I bet a beautiful family life exists there; one full of comforts and laughter and even hard, but loving times. I grew sad at knowing these thoughts were a reflection of my grasping. I became even more dispirited thinking about my current life of travel seemingly to nowhere. Nowhere, somewhere so far from the scene I was witnessing each day.

Desert Mountains
Nowhere turned into the Iron Mountain trail near San Diego.
Sun setting on the horizon
Nowhere also brought me to this sunset from Seaside Cliffs in San Diego.

I went hard at my reflections on the depressed feelings which grew in the lead up to my departure. What was I REALLY sad about? After all, I’m lucky enough to be able to live in many places if I wish. Nothing is holding me back from settling in somewhere. I could make a life with a home and a husband and even children.

After several days of reflection before and after the trip, I finally got it. I understood what the whole journey is about. It’s not just about building a life based off the pieces and parts you’ve been told are needed, then somehow feeling some sort of grand happiness and fulfillment when you’re done. It’s not about building or making a life at all, really.

It’s about making life yours.

I stopped to think further about it. Making life mine. It certainly isn’t a new concept. After-all, a dear friend of mine has been trying to help me understand it for years. He was constantly reminding me that if I kept doing things as I had been (i.e working to get the job I think I should have or working to find a husband like I think I should or working to accrue all the material goods that make a successful adult life) without first understanding who I am and what fills me up, I’d build a life on a faulty foundation. This foundation would be such an unstable base that if one of the external aspects is removed, i.e. a job is lost, the entire life crumbles.

Imagine building a house with a foundation where if one brick is removed the whole house crumbles. Not the best idea, am I right?

Finally, after sitting with my depressed feelings and being honest with myself, the idea made sense to me. Yes the world I was witnessing looked and seemed amazing. However, it too would leave me feeling unfulfilled if I tried to live it without first clearing out the “shoulds”, facing my fears head on, dealing with them, then deciding which aspects of life I want to keep and which I want to let go. That is the journey I’m on… the journey we are all on.

Making life our own.

During these reflection, I also realized I was grasping while trying to remember each detail of a place I’m in. I saw this grasping also served to support the “shoulds” of life. I understood on a new level the sentiments sent to me earlier that day via one of the homeowners whose return I was sad to miss. He ended his email with:

“Enjoy your travels, adventures, and surprises along the way; as it is the moments not the passage of time that we cherish most.”

What I keep from each stop on my life’s journey are the lessons and moments which allow me to grow into the person I am. The seconds where I practice patience and compassion, the moments I appreciate a beautiful scene, the times when I observe myself overcoming my fears and doing something different; these are times which need not be remembered as they become internalized into the fabric of my being.

They are moments I will cherish always. They are mine.

They make my life mine.

pink sky at sunset
The Sun sets in the desert. Another stop on my journey to Nowhere.

East the Sun, West the Moon

•• The title of this post is in reference to one of my favorite stories from my youth.


I write to you from the last afternoon of my house sit here in Templeton. It’s been an emotional day, and I’ve spent most of it reflecting on why. I suppose the first reason is that I’ll miss these pups (who are amazing pets/teachers) immensely. They were kind enough to take me into their pack for these few weeks, and I am grateful for the hospitality.:

Dogs standing next to each other.
Bibi and Buddy hanging out during play time.
English Spaniel laying on the couch.
Bibi watches TV next to me.
Dog asleep on lap.
Buddy doesn’t seem too interested in the show.

Beyond just missing these furry friends, however, something else is going on. But, what?

Fear.

Yeah, I’m scared. Really scared. Not being able to see what’s ahead of me, even though I know it is probably amazing moments and new connections, is really scary. It seems the assurance of the amazing moments doesn’t yet outweigh the potential of the crappy ones. I’m working on it though.

Beyond fear there is a gnawing. I don’t know the short description of it yet, so you’ll have to read more words to get there. The gnawing is this wondering… am I meant to meet all these amazing people and pets, have wonderful times with them, then never see them again? What is the point of that?! It’s deflating. It’s like one let down after the next… and this line of thinking gets me thinking:

What did I sign up for?

I then go into a self battle of You thought you were running towards something, but maybe everyone’s right. Maybe you’re just running away from adult responsibility and reality. Maybe you ARE the failure everyone thinks you are.

I’ll save you from the graphic scene that ensues.

I’m not sure what the answer is or IF there needs to be an answer, but as I stop to consider how to close out this piece I’m reminded of these scenes from the morning after the recent full moon.

Moon in a morning sky.
The moon sits high in the morning sky.
Sunrise with pink clouds.
Not too bad of a sunrise, huh?

As I was walking the dogs I noticed that the moon (seen above) was still high in the morning sky, glowing brightly. Shortly after, the Sun was ALSO rising in the sky. As I noted this, I thought about how both of these seemingly opposite masses were existing in the same place at the time. I chuckled to myself thinking how our binary worlds would go crazy from more of this type of thinking.

Maybe it’s time I go a little crazy then?