A European Arrival

I did it. A year ago I set the goal of traveling and working from Europe, and it is happening! Part of me wants to say I’m not quite sure how I got here, but the other part of me recognizes this instinct as the false feminine modesty which I’ve learned to don over my life time.

In truth, I know exactly how I got here. I recognized a desire, I put a plan into action to see it through, and then I methodically carried out that plan.

The first step was figuring out how to create a larger financial runway in case I wasn’t able to make money while traveling (NOTE: I’m aware and grateful that I have been able to work and make money the entire time I’ve been traveling).

The next was in minimizing my material goods in order to travel light. Then I tested out a life of travel in my home country, and now… here I am, writing to you from a friend’s apartment in Budapest.

My arrival in Europe has been emotional and hectic. Still, I find it amazing that one can go from having beers with a friend in lower Manhattan…

Lis and Clewi holding beers
Clewi and I have a beer in downtown Manhattan.

to, only 20 hours later, having a Danish danish and coffee in Copenhagen.

Danish and a coffee
A danish and a coffee… mmmmmm

I love this phenomenon I notice when traveling. I think of it as the demystification of time and space. I feel outside of time in these instances, and I can’t help but chuckle at how much faith we put into something (i.e. time) that can so easily be altered and manipulated. This thinking is probably a large part of the reason I can travel and work and live the way I can… but that for another post.

When I arrived in Copenhagen after only a few hours of nodding off on my red-eye flight, I was somehow ready to go. Mind over matter, I suppose. Luckily, my friends had been in the city for a few days and knew the lay of the land.

We strolled through beautiful gardens:

cemetery garden
A cemetery garden in Copenhagen.
tree against blue sky
Taking a moment to look up.

We hit up a stationery / book store (NOTE: my favorite!) where I saw some fun signage.

Sign
I thought this sign was fun.

I learned how much the Danes love hotdogs, and was able to secure several of this signature dish.

Danish hotdog
A Danish hotdog

We ventured to Reffen, a street food market made of shipping containers and deliciousness.

shipping container
Container art
Pork roasting
Pork roasts over the coals.
Brewery on the water
This brewery scene is what I pictured Copenhagen being like.

We even snagged a walking tour the next morning which enabled me to basically understand the gist of Copenhagen (NOTE: This included stories of the many fires and rebuilding from them. It also included palaces, ports, and more pastries):

Lis against brick wall
I had to grab at least one picture while on the walking tour.
Copenhagen harbor
The famous harbor

Then, about 30 hours after my arrival in Denmark, I was gone. Yet again I put time on pause and flew to Budapest. We landed here late Sunday night, and I have spent much of my time working just like any other week of the year.

I have been able to get out a time or two to take in some culture though.

statues
Budapest welcomes me.
Budapest building
A building in downtown Budapest.

It was when I paused while making my normal breakfast the other day that it all hit me. I’m in Europe. Holy shit, my plan actually worked! I swelled with joy, pride, and gratitude. I’ve been carrying that gratitude with me and dwelling in it ever since.

I’m unsure what the next month or so in Europe will bring. I’ve given myself permission to either love it or hate it or both. I’m sure I’ll find some amazing times and some not so great times.

I think the important part is to be present and honest through it all. After-all, by doing so I make whatever I find here my own.

AND, that is what this journey is all about.

What Even Is?

As I sit here in the coffee shop, I loathe the man across the room. There he is on his phone talking about “landing a deal”, being all self-absorbed and New York, unaware that his deal doesn’t even matter to the grander scheme of things. He doesn’t even know that the deal is probably what is tearing him away from what life really is! I despise his ignorance… I envy it.

I remember those moments of being lost in my own distractions. I have no doubt they’ll return, though I’m unsure I want them to. Instead, I want the loss of Kofi to have impact and significance, but I know I’m a human being addicted to shielding myself from the suffering that surrounds my existence. I know too the allure of distracting myself with schedules and tasks is one I have yet to conquer.

In the wake of this loss, and after spending over an hour trying to get these words on paper, the sentiments come back to me. What is this battle I fight with myself? How pointless it is to be lost in my head instead of being present in what actually is?

Then again, what even IS?

I thought I knew, or at least I thought I was on the path. But, when faced with such stark reality, we’re also faced with the knowledge we’ve been distracting ourselves from for so long.

That knowledge being the answer to the question which we refuse to acknowledge; for doing so means everything we’ve done in life to “get there” really is just a mechanism for protecting us from anticipated pain, discomfort, and fear.

That answer?

What really is is nothing, everything, and our complete lack of control of either.

What the hell am I talking about?

I’m saying the linear life that we plan and perfect isn’t REAL. It only exists in our heads. What IS is not the plan nor the perfection of living that plan. What IS is what’s happening to you right now. And now. And now.

What happened to you two seconds ago is gone, and what will happen two seconds from now is out of your control. Oh, you think it’s in your control. You think you can plan the next two seconds, then the next, and the next. You think that by doing so you can avoid the pain of the unplanned and the unwanted… but I assure you, you cannot.

You see, just because one of our plans works out, doesn’t mean we are in control of that outcome. Just because many of our schedules and jobs and relationships and plans work out; we are not in control.

Because, at any moment it could all change.

We see examples of this all the time. Some of those examples are tragic, but some of them are quite amazing. Yes, a death can come at anytime, but so too can a new life!

Further, not knowing and not being in control is all OK. In fact, it’s more than OK… it’s actually the only thing that IS.

Not being in control is the reality of living.

Ok so in plain talk, what do I think IS?

I think:

What is is the feeling you get from looking at a beautiful plant.

Plant in a winery tasting room
One of the plants at Core Winery in Lyle, WA

What is is admiring a cute pet.

Taiwanese Mountain Dog sleeping
Fay takes a snooze.

What is is the joy of seeing family come together.

baby shower
My ill attempt at capturing my sister-in-laws baby shower.
family
Rey, Clewi, and Zwayne get together.

What is is the awe of seeing the wonder of human hands.

Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge from a far.

What is is the grief of standing in front of your friend at rest and saying goodbye.

What is is the pain of holding a grieving friend.

What is is the heartache of having to take the next step forward from your grief into the unknown.

All of these things are, and then they aren’t; and none of them are within our control.

I have spent my entire life believing myself in control. I have been trying to run from the suffering of life through distracting myself with accomplishments and schedules, but, in that running, I have missed the joy that comes along with the suffering.

Seeing a life well lived end too soon, I recognize my time is running out for taking in the joy. That is what really scares me.

I also recognize that to let that joy in, to feel the depths of life, I have to let in the pain too.

To let that pain in, I need give up the idea that I’m in control and let life happen; the good and the bad.

Only then will I be free. Only then, will I be living.

Dedication

Kofi
My friend, Kofi Aidoo

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.

One of my most vibrant memories was when Kofi was a guest on the Adrift on Purpose podcast, a favor he did for me, no doubt. He was always doing favors for everyone he loved. That was his way.

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 hear you, Kof, I do.

And, I love you… always.

On Loneliness and Community

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:

Columbia River Beach
Not a bad place so sit, enjoy coffee, and reflect on life, huh?
Columbia river gorge
A view of White Salmon from afar.

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:

Fallen Tree in a river
I still can’t tell if the branches in the water are the tree’s reflection or actual branches… the river is so clear!

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:

Lis headshot
Happy to be with a friend at my favorite Gorge winery. PS how great is the sky?

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.

Rediscovering Wonder

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 day I returned to Oregon, I drove from Oakland to Klamath Falls. It just so happens that earlier this Summer, on the road trip from White Salmon to Los Angeles, I stayed in Klamath Falls. I checked into the same motel, and settled in for a cozy night.

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.

Snowy sidewalk
Snowy sidewalk in Klamath Falls.
Street buildings
A few of the buildings along the main street in Klamath Falls.

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.

Coffee shop
Gathering Grounds Cafe & Roastery
Bowl of oatmeal and a newspaper.
My delicious breakfast and the local news.

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!

Border collie on a couch.
Meet Lily!

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.

Paddle boarder on river.
A paddle boarder traverses the Deschutes.

There are funky buildings which remind me of my small town roots:

Teal barn
One of the buildings which reminded me of home.

There is art everywhere:

mural
A Bend mural.

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.

Signpost
One of the many signs for walkers.

There is also an entire project here in Bend aimed at bringing more kindness and joy into the lives of its citizens:

Bend Joy sign.
One of the many signs around Bend which promotes the Bend JOY Project.

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.

So… I’m not ungrateful, I’m courageous!

Yeah… I’ll just keep telling myself that.

What We Leave Behind… Or Don’t

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.

Fay
Fay sits by the fire!

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.

Stairs up to house
One of the houses in the neighborhood.

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:

Purple Flowers

Mailbox

Flowers in the trees

Purple flowers

Green plants

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.

Cherish and Create Beauty

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.

Trees along a paved walk way.
Beautiful Oakland trails.

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.

I know I am!

Letting Go: A Dream

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 hills, 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:

Steps to a cottage
Backyard steps leading up to the cottage.
Wooden bench
A bench at the back of the cottage.
Back yard
A view from the cottage to the back yard.
SF Bay
A neighboring house with the Bay in the distance.
Dog sleeping on her back
Fay takes a nap in the Sun.

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 sense 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.

Now the only question is, will I?

Themes Emerge: Driving from Edgewood to Oakland

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.)

map with route outlined
The route I drove from New Mexico to California.

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.

a dam over a river with canyons
The view before I cross the Colorado River near Page, AZ.
coffee shop outdoors
River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah.
patio and mountains
The view from the River Rock Roasting Company.
Desert art installation
The Seven Magic Mountains art installation outside Las Vegas.
Desert mountains
Desert views as I drove West from Las Vegas.

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!

Snow on the mountain roads
The snow begins.

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:

Mountains
View from the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

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.

Window Rock
Window Rock
Navajo Code Talkers monument
In dedication to the Navajo Code Talkers.
Sign in dedication.
Dedicated to veterans.
museum entrance
The entrance to the museum.
museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo 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”.

Motel sign for Lu lu's Sleep Ezze Motel
The motel I stayed at in Page, AZ

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.

Scratch that.

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?

On a Rainy Day in Zion

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:

Hotel room bed
The bed from which I write to you.
Rain and mountains
The view from my window.

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.

Easy, right?

Right.

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.

Yeah, that thing is me.

No pressure.