A Year Later – Reflections From My First Year on the Road

This post will not be perfect. I want it to be. As the official post noting my “year living on the road” it damn well should be. But alas, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a year living without a permanent address, it’s that nothing, and I mean nothing, is perfect.

Take the view above which I’m seated in front of while I write. It looks pretty damn perfect. When I pictured myself living and writing in Europe, this is the scene I imagined; clear skies, water views, quaint buildings… it has it all!

However, what it doesn’t show is the reality of the working class citizens who live here. Nor does it highlight any of the injustices that the disenfranchised face, nor the cracked paint I’ve hidden from view. Seeing these not-so-perfect seeming aspects of any scene would mean setting aside the desired perfection of what’s in front of us, to allow the truth to be revealed.

I suppose I’m rambling on about this because this process of setting aside my desire for perfection to allow truth to be shown is what has been my main lesson from this past year.

How have I learned this lesson? On June 2, 2018 my friend and I drove out of White Salmon, WA into the unknown. Since then I’ve seen a whole lot. To give you a better idea of what I’ve been up to, I’ve:

  • Stayed in 5 countries, 11 states, and well over 30 cities.
  • Road tripped the west coast of the U.S., the east coast of the U.S., and drove a wandering route from Albuquerque, NM to Oakland, CA.
  • House sat at 8 different homes for 15 different pets.
  • Met countless new friends.
  • Written 54 blog posts on The Lis Experiment Blog
  • Started The Lis Experiment YouTube channel and posted 19 videos so far. (NOTE: Please Subscribe!)

Yeah… I’m tired.

During this time I’ve seen tremendous beauty, experienced boundless inspiration, and created relationships I hope to grow throughout the rest of my life time.

River in rocks
Along a hike in Switzerland.

I’ve also witnessed unfathomable poverty, sat uncomfortably with the evidence of my country’s painful past, and sank into the despair of great loss.

museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum

When someone goes on a journey like the one I’m lucky enough to be on, we picture it as perfect. We see them as living in exotic locations while meeting the most amazing people and only having to work a few hours a day.

We picture the perfection we desire to see.

What we don’t see are lonely moments without distraction from our demons, the frustrating times of not being able to order a coffee due to language barriers, the freak outs of trying to rationalize why the hell you’re sleeping on friends’ couches as a 37-year-old professional.

We push these truths aside.

A year ago, when I wrote the first post on this blog, Being Me Anywhere, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was certain I’d grow and learn and come out better for my efforts. I was aware I’d have to look my imperfections in the eye and not blink for the growth to take place.

What I didn’t expect was how addicted I’d become to the feeling of joy which fills my being each time I accept these imperfections as who I am. I also didn’t foresee the internal effort needed to push through the force of shame to not only be comfortable with my short comings, but to also see them as my strengths.

This has been a key factor in my journey. I doubt myself constantly, but I know now that doubt is a gift, not a curse. It propels me forward. This seeming flaw, is actually necessary for me to continue.

A year from now, I have no idea where I’ll be or who I’ll be with.

I do know I still won’t have reached perfection, though.

The funny thing is… I no longer want to.


Skimming Across the Lake of the World

I talk about reflection… a lot.

I’ve found that traveling around, much of the time alone, sparks these deeply reflective vibes I have. Since I’m in this mode so often nowadays, you can see why I was excited to receive the below note from a dear friend:

“Travel is so life-affirming and transformative, especially when traveling alone for some reason, I find. Something about you skimming like a stone across the lake of the world – not quite in and of the places you’re visiting… I don’t know. it becomes an excellent mirror for self-reflection, that lake.“

My excitement had many different catalysts. However, the parts I want to dissect today are those of skimming across the lake and the lake itself.

What AM I doing?

Lis sitting drinking an espresso
Surely a question this profound means coffee.

Traveling around the world… for what? Self-reflection? Can’t I just do that in one place? Why does one need to be alone for it?

To the main question: what am I doing? I didn’t fully know when I started this post, but by the end we get there. Read on.

I do know that I am on this journey for self-reflection, and that I’m unable to have the same magnitude of self-reflection when in one place, constantly surrounded by others.

By traveling the “lake of the world” I experience so much more than I would standing still in my comfort zone.

Couple this with “skimming across” said lake, and I find as I skip about, never quite in or of, I take on the role of the observer.

In this role, I can see and appreciate without preamble or bias many seemingly everyday occurrences.

Statue in the park
A statue in front of the park. Notice the Saturday market in the background.
Tiles on the train station
Tiles adorn a building near a rural train station.
Across the water from Porto
The view from Porto, Portugal.
River and Sun setting
Looking back at Porto at sunset.
Flowers in front of building
The front of our AirBnB rental in Porto.
Bridge over water too an island in a park
A bridge to a tree filled island in a Porto park.
Red flowers
Flowers in front of Porto
View of the Porto river from up high
A view north from the park.

I not only take in these new scenes, but I work to perceive them completely on my own terms without any direct outside influence.

Bringing the two sides of the equation together, the breadth of experiences gained as I travel and choose to take on the role of life observer, and the development of my own perspective on these experiences, is helping me to truly find and DEFINE myself.

By going outward into the world, I’m going inward into myself. The lake reflecting back, ftw!

Could one go through this process without putting themselves on my journey? Absolutely. In fact, I believe what I’m describing is a wordy description of a simple meditation practice… but I digress.

The result of the process of observing then developing perspective is a person who not only loves and honors themselves fully, but whose cup is so full they can’t help but extend love and support to the world around them.

Sign that touts "The Weight of Distraction"
What would happen if we lifted the weight of distraction?

I believe once you recognize your own grace (which I’m working on doing as I skim the lake of the world), it’s impossible not to see that you are part of a greater whole, a well-spring of grace. I also believe it’s impossible to miss the realization that if the greater whole is suffering, so too, are you, and therefore you work to help the world around you (to also help yourself).

As I was having these thoughts, the below quote found me (NOTE: for more on me and Einstein, click here).

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. One experiences oneself, one’s thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of one’s consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
~ Albert Einstein

I held my breath as I read the quote a second, then a third time. I wasn’t sure why I had this reaction at first. I just knew the words resonated with me on a deep level and I had to share them in this piece.

Now I understand why they were so meaningful. They explain better than I ever could what it is I AM doing.

I’m breaking myself out of the prison of delusion. I’m freeing myself by widening my circle of compassion. I’m learning to love and embrace myself through skimming across the lake of the world, so that I can embrace and love the whole.

To say I’m humbled by the power of these words is an understatement.

To say I’m obligated to keep going is not.


Remembering Courage

I remember the first time I heard the definition of courage I’ve come to love. I may have told you this before, but humor me for a moment.

I was sitting on a comfy couch, I believe while doing a housesit in Sunny Southern California, and was watching one of my favorite shows on Netflix, The Last Kingdom. The main character, a warrior, was talking to a less experienced soldier on the eve of a major battle.

When the younger man admits to the main character that he’s afraid, the main character tells him something along the lines of, “Courage is finding the will to overcome your fear. Nothing more”. The next day in the midst of battle when the junior man cowers before an enemy, the main character yells to him: “Use your courage!” The younger man finds his courage and overcomes. The battle is won, and the series continues.

These scenes impacted me so deeply they are what I reimagine each time I hear the word courage.

I’ve written a bit about courage here before when I shared a quote from Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead. It was being reunited with this quote recently, through sitting on a comfy bed in Lisbon watching her Netflix special, which jolted me back into remembering to use my own courage.

I think it’s pretty courageous of me to be traveling around several foreign countries alone, but I don’t always remember to, as Brené mentions:

Choose courage over comfort.

Sure I remember to do so in the BIG life moments, but it’s when I don’t remember to do so in the smaller ones that I falter. By being courageous, and thus vulnerable, in only one area of my life, I create incongruity, and thus angst, in other areas.

For example, I may choose to travel alone around Europe, but also choose NOT to be brave enough to try to order my morning coffee in the local language. I’ll tell myself how brave I am overall in order to quell my shame, then I’ll make the excuse that “everyone speaks English anyway” so there’s no need for me to order in the local language.

In reality, I’m simply too scared in this smaller seeming moment that I’ll screw it up and be laughed at OR worse, that I won’t screw it up and receive a reply I don’t understand and thus will have to admit to my lack of knowledge. This imbalance of choosing courage on one end of the spectrum but not the other is what I believe causes much of my anxiety.

Thus, choosing courage over comfort in all of my life moments has been a mantra of mine since being reunited with these ideas.
When I spent last Saturday exploring Lisbon both alone, then meeting up with friends to explore with them, the exercise of choosing courage over comfort came to life.

I spent the morning hours muddling my way through ordering coffee and treats in my terrible Portuguese, but then succeeded beyond measure.

Coffee and pastry
A delicious espresso and a pastel de nata as my reward. mmmmmm.

I spent the afternoon hours first venturing into the cramped tourist land of Central Lisbon to see the famous St. Jorge castle. The castle was nice and all, but wasn’t really what I expected. It had amazing views of the city, and tall brick structures, but it wasn’t the grand event I’d hoped for.

I normally would have stayed longer at the castle because I should AND to “get my money’s worth”, but I instead left early to sit in quaint a cafe on a tight Lisbon street and enjoy some pizza and beer (or cider, rather).

Lis in front of the view of Lisbon
Me and a view of Lisbon.
Castle grounds
I loved the castle grounds.
Fish sculpture
A fun sculpture on the castle grounds.

It doesn’t sound courageous to leave behind history for vices, BUT I assure you that’s the point! To let go of the “shoulds” and do what I want is not an easy thing. It involves me betting more on myself than on the opinions of others, a bet I haven’t taken much in my life. In fact, I’ve told myself I’ve insured my own safety by not betting on myself. I’m kinda done telling myself this, but back to the story.

The friends I was meeting, an English woman and man about my age who have lived in Lisbon since March, arrived at the cafe and ALSO decided on a pizza and beer before we took in any culture. They were inspired by my leisure and wanted to stay out of the now very hot Sun as long as possible.

Being honest and courageous was paying off!

We weren’t in too much of a hurry to get to The National Tile Museum of Lisbon, and since one of the friends used to come to Lisbon in his youth, he wanted to show us the Flea Market (or market of thieves) where his father took him. His desires rewarded me with a wonderful view of books everywhere!

Books on bookcase
Books everywhere! This is just one example.

After the market, the three of us walked down the steep, crowded, and winding streets to sea level, where we continued our now flat, but incredibly hot walk. Along the way I noticed when I would think to be funny or quirky in order to try to “win people over”, my comfort zone.

Instead I chose courage and self honesty. I listened more than talked. I walked in the internal discomfort of this choice, but found that it didn’t take long to find solace and ease in the practice. I watched my mind become more quiet and myself become more present. I was even able to rediscover some wonder along the way.

mural along a walk
Some Lisbon street art.

We enjoyed the tile museum immensely. It was a simple, focused place, and with the practice of choosing courage, I saw with fresher eyes. The gardens were awe inspiring, and the mix of indoor and outdoor was perfect for a hot day:

Pink flowers above a doorway
The entrance to the museum.
Garden courtyard with a large fountain.
The courtyard garden at the museum.
Tile walls of an outdoor courtyard
Tiles line the walls of the courtyard.
Tile picture of a soldier
A piece at the National Tile Museum

When we parted ways later that day, I continued to keep my practice top of mind. I realized how I often think of fear as being afraid of “real” and “big” things, but then remember how so many of my everyday existence can be motivated by it.

I know a large part of my behaviors and reactions I’ve put into place due to a fear of either experiencing disappointment from myself or others or a fear of not succeeding or a fear of personal discomfort of any kind. I see now how much energy I waste trying to avoid these fears.

As I continue this journey I look to become aware of these everyday fears and eradicate them with the simple power of choice.

Can it be as easy as choosing courage in our moments of discomfort?

Come on, I didn’t say the choice was an easy one!


A Short Stop in Switzerland

This time last week I would have been writing to you with this view before me:

Buildings with Mountains in the background
The view from Gilles and Claudia’s flat.

That’s the French Alps you see in the distance, and it’s also the view from my dear friends’ apartment in Lausanne, Switzerland. I landed in Lausanne on a Thursday afternoon, and by Sunday was making my way to Lisbon, Portugal. The time in-between, however, was far from wasted.

Since the three of us were free to adventure on Friday, we rented a car and headed to Gruyères and nearby Broc. Our plan was to take in some nature in Broc, then visit the H.R. Giger museum while also perusing the medieval town of Gruyères where the museum is located. It was a great plan for the day, and we kicked if off with some coffee in Broc.

Espresso with cream
I usually don’t take cream with my espresso, BUT this cream is made with the same milk that’s used in Gruyere cheese. When in Rome.
Landscape sign pointing out mountain peaks
These signs are all over in local towns. They point out the mountains in view and their respective heights (in meters).

Our hike was nothing short of amazing. The trail, which closely followed a river, sat at the bottom of jagged, striated rock walls on both sides of the water. These elements allowed for spooky caves to venture through and beautiful bridges to cross. The ascent culminated in a view of a large dam and reservoir for us to admire.

A river running through rock
The river nestled between the rock.
Rock
Check out the striations.
A cave to walk through
A spooky cave awaits.
Bridge
We walked down and across this bridge. The scene felt straight out of a film.
A dam and water
Gilles, Claudia, and I take a breather at the dam.

Despite the jaw dropping beauty at every turn, what most appealed to me was the signage placed at critical points in what seemed like backwoods areas.

signs
There are no roads for cars in sight, but there are plenty of signs pointing out how to get around on foot.

The Swiss are a walking folk, so hiking 6 kilometers then strolling (that’s a lie, the Swiss don’t stroll, they walk like any good New Yorker might) several more to the next village isn’t a stretch.

We American, French, and German folk are not Swiss, thus at the end of our hike we opted for the bus back to the car. Along our short bus ride, I noted a few people walking the area, and a quaint, cozy feeling came over me. It was just so cool to see people living in and walking through seemingly remote sites as if it they were in a bustling city. It shows a level of trust and community, and a oneness I think.

Winding trail
That trail you see in the foreground leads to a house… not kidding.

Back at the car, we made our way to Gruyères and the museum. As you can imagine, the sites were still amazing. The museum itself was impactful. For those that don’t know H.R. Giger is the creator of the Alien films. The museum showcased these and other works of his, as well as his private collections. His work is extremely detailed, but also houses a great deal of balance of machinery, humanity… and the occult. Did you know Giger drew a Tarot deck? Nor did I, dear reader. Nor did I.

What impacted me the most, however, was my imagining his frame of mind. I asked myself if someone who created such arts, and had such successes with them, was happy. Or were they so driven to create a world, or so tormented by their imaginings, that they never found peace?

Welcome to Gruyères
The sign welcomes us to Gruyères.
Gruyères
Gruyères Streets!
Church
A view from the Gruyères Castle

Experiencing these beautiful places and the delicious treats they offered was lovely, but it was nothing in comparison to what my friends and I did throughout the day and later that night (and for the rest of the weekend, really).

We talked to each other. Lovely, enriching, detailed, adult conversations were had. Not once did a television screen go on (I don’t think they had one, actually). Not once did we allow ourselves a chance to be distracted. Instead we shared and debated and learned from each other. It was my version of heaven.

The inspiration only continued on Saturday when we met a friend and walked down to the Lausanne market. We picked up goods for the dinner we were making that night (Tarte Flambée or Flammekueche, depending on your heritage), one of the most important being cheese.My friend tried to acquire this cheese no less than 4 times before succeeding. (It should be noted there were cheese stands throughout the market, but the best cheese purveyor had quite the line in front of him most of the day. Finally, the line died down and we were able to purchase… what can I say… you have to love the French and their love of quality ingredients.)

We spent the afternoon walking through the Olympic Museum Park, then along Lake Geneva, again talking, sharing, connecting. Then the friend returned for our dinner, and we spent my last night in the city debating our profession and other highly important topics (which I honestly can’t remember, but I’m sure they were important).

Olympic Park
This is a view of the Olympic Park. You can see the flame in the middle which burns year round. The lake in the background is Lake Geneva.
Tarte Flambee with onion
One of the two we made that night. This was the more traditional recipe.

When I woke up on Sunday, I was sad to be leaving, but I was also happy in realizing I had learned my lesson, and because I was much more invested in manifesting a great time in Switzerland, a great time was had.

I said goodbye to my friends at the train station while sincerely hoping to see and talk to them again soon. I then turned into myself, considering the month ahead in Lisbon… but that is for another post.


Regret, Awe, and Being Myself

I write to you on my last day in Budapest where I find myself oozing conflict.

On the one hand, I’m mesmerized with my ability to BE here and live a normal existence. On the other, I’m concerned I’ve spent too much time inside; both inside buildings and inside my head.

I’m asking myself things like, Did I work too much while I was here? Should I have gotten out and DONE more? Was I a good friend to my host during my time here? What is causing this feeling of regret?.

Ah ha, that’s it! I’m regretful of my time here. Even though I saw much of the city and had a great time with my friend, I feel I failed somehow. Failed to do what? I’m not sure exactly. Here in lies the conflict, I suppose.

In truth, I saw and did a lot despite working the weekdays away and ensuring my friend’s dog had a bud to hang out with while his human was at work.

For example, I saw a good deal of Budapest’s downtown:

bridge
Looking across the Danube to Buda from Pest!
Keleti Station
Keleti Station

I enjoyed delicious treats:

coffee
A coffee and a treat
Lis and Cris with beers.
Stopping for a beer and some more treats.

I saw loads of local street art:

graffiti
Loved all the local graffiti. This is on the way to the train station in the neighborhood.

I even venture north to the town of Szentendre where we enjoyed strolling the town, taking in the sites, and wine tasting a bit:

Szentendre sign
Szentendre train station sign.
Ivy on the side of a house
Loved the ivy throughout town.
town square
The town square.
Ice cream shop
Loved the front of this ice cream shop.
Danube River
A view of the Danube.

All this, and still I’m regretful.

I think in large part this feeling comes from my not being present in my time here. I chalk this lack of presentness up to my slipping back into a role. Allow me to explain.

Being granted the gift of spending time with friends you’ve known for 30 years allows you to see who you are now versus who you were in your past lives.

I believe all of us play some sort of role starting from the time we are very young. We do this to fit in to the culture and society that surrounds us because standing out from that culture threatens our survival (or at least that’s how our brains see it).

While here with my dear friend, and while being in this uber reflective internal mode, I’ve noticed the roles I’ve played clearly. I’ve seen where I’ve bended to others’ needs my entire life, ignoring my own in order to ensure peace and connection. I’ve seen how I’ve emptied my cup in order to maintain the illusion of normalcy and conformity, and I’ve seen how doing all of this has drained me of my fervor for life.

Please note that I realize this is no one else’s doing except my own. All of us who play these roles choose them, whether we realize it or not. Now that I’m out of the solitude of the road, and am interacting with others again on a consistent basis, I see how much I neglect the person I am when I’m around others. I see I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I see how many of us are doing this time and again.

To bring it back to my current regret: perhaps as I slipped in and out of this role play while here in Hungary, I didn’t allow myself to fully BE myself. And, perhaps this is the regret that I feel today.

Have no fear, there has been much positivity and action inspired by this feeling. I’ve started considering what I need from my adventures to fill my “empty for far too long” cup. As I have these considerations, I reach out to others I want to meet up with on future adventures and do the research I need to empower the journey ahead. I’m starting to figure out how to fill my cup and be myself, and that’s pretty awesome.

By doing all of this I hypothesize that I can better hook into, and be present with, the adventures ahead of me. I think that by considering what people, activities, and places fill my cup and make me ME, then by putting those things on my plate, I can be much more present with myself and others. Further I can fill my cup thereby reigniting my fervor for life!

Yes, I believe it is through this practice that congruency occurs, and instead of using my energy by wondering if I’m doing each moment and place “right”, I’m using it to BE in the moment and place fully.

For now, this is just a hypothesis; albeit a highly informed one. I plan on testing it out by continuing this practice of considering what I need to fill my cup and be myself then taking action to put the things I come up with into place in the coming weeks.

Let’s see how I do going forward. Maybe the next time I write to you from my last day in a place I’ll have less regret and more awe in my heart.

Honestly, considering this in more depth today, I already do.


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.