Self Work: A Story

When anyone claims to be on a journey towards finding and knowing self, we think they must be making huge life changes like meditating 2 hours a day, eating only raw foods, or removing all excess from their life and living in solitude. But, I assure you that my path towards knowing myself better, and becoming a better me, is really about making simple, everyday life choices consciously and, when appropriate, differently.

An example occurred about a week ago when I was making my way from meeting my new nephew in Upstate New York to Hoboken, NJ (which for those not familiar with the area is about 2 – 3 hours away).

Taking this route was quite normal for me as I used to live in NYC and often went upstate to visit my family. Thus, when I embarked on the usual train ride from Middletown, NY to Hoboken, NJ, I didn’t expect any life lessons. I was simply looking forward to shutting my eyes for a few hours and resting.

That wasn’t the case.

On the day in question there was work being done on the train tracks, and so we needed to take a free shuttle bus to a more busy train station to avoid said work. This wasn’t abnormal either. In fact, I’d done it several times before without event.

Unfortunately on this day, our shuttle was late and we missed the next train putting us passengers an hour behind schedule. When I boarded the next shuttle, and realized we’d miss yet another train putting us now two hours behind schedule, I started to consider taking a cab the hour drive from somewhere in Northern New Jersey to Hoboken.

When this idea came to mind, I felt my heart start to race at the panic of being two hours late. I consciously chose to calm my thoughts. I then reminded myself it was Saturday, I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to save money. So, I came to the conclusion that getting a cab was unnecessary. I was disappointed in this realization, because I was SO TIRED and just wanted to get back to Hoboken to rest.

In this simple moment, I surrendered to the universe and accepted my fate of having to get home late putting the cab idea out of mind. Then, I disembarked the second shuttle bus to wait the hour for the next train.

As I was on the elevator to the train track with the other late passengers, a man about my age said, “Does anyone have the Uber app on their phone? I’ll pay for our ride to Hoboken. I can’t be late for work or I’ll lose my job.”

This was an ordinary moment, you see? It was a moment when most people would choose to ignore this stranger. I mean, who gets into an hour long cab ride with some strange man? Many of us would instead continue along the certain and safe path of catching the next train.

The old me would have made this choice, anyway. But the new me? The new me was conscious, and I saw the opportunity to get back faster while both saving money AND helping a fellow person out. So, I consciously chose differently.

“I have the Lyft app on my phone. We can split the cost of the ride,” I said.

“No. I’ll pay for it. Trust me you’re doing me a huge favor,” he replied.

With the free ride confirmed, I saw the universe supporting my decision. The man seemed normal enough, AND he was echoing thoughts I myself had had only a few minutes ago.

I took a chance.

Several minutes later our Lyft driver, Jean, whisked us away toward Hoboken. During the hour long ride, I watched as we became a unit. Jean laughed at the fact that Sean (the man from the elevator) and I were complete strangers taking a cab through New Jersey, and he told us about his band, his wife, and his work.

Sean, a bartender in the West Village neighborhood of NYC told us how he once talked to Lady Gaga who is best friends with a co-worker, and then described his history in bartending.

Jean was conscious about getting Sean to his train and to work on time. All of us were curious about each other. We were in it together.

We were human together.

You’ve heard me wonder here before about the point of these very short term, but intense, connections I make.

In this case, in the moment when the three of us were saying goodbye (PS Sean made his train on time!) I, again, lamented having this deeply connective moment which felt like it should last forever, end right in front of my eyes.

These moments make me emotional every time. I start to believe that surely these beings were meant to stay in my life to keep me human and connected. Then they are gone! It’s very hard on me.

This time, however, as I felt the impending loss, I also remembered that our human connection never fades, as long as we keep it alive within us. It can and should remain with us, even when the individuals who help reunite us with the connection are no longer near. This IS the point of these moments; to remember and internalize that connection to others and ourselves.

If I had decided to stay on the safe route of the train, I’d never have felt the warmth and laughter of other people experiencing life. I’d also never have those feelings to look back on when considering my own life.

In one moment I made a conscious, but different, choice which gave me a huge payoff that would extend beyond just the moment.

Now, as I reflect on this story while basking in the beauty of The Columbia River Gorge (where I’m housesitting for a dear friend) I again see that how we choose in the simple life moments, determines how we’ll make the bigger life choices.

Further, if in these simpler moments, we choose to be conscious and choose more for ourselves instead of for what we want others to think of us, we can then make the bigger life choices more confidently and more purposeful. I see it all as a practice to get us to a place where we’re confident and loving of who we are.

In the end, isn’t that what doing “self work” is all about?

Backwoods brewery flight
Cheers to that!

A Day in Madrid, New Mexico

I first learned of the town called Madrid, New Mexico from the homeowners of the house where I’m staying. From there the name kept coming up. Combine this with having driven through on my way to Santa Fe the week before, and I knew I had to visit. The Saturday before Christmas seemed the perfect time. After-all, there were a few more presents I wanted to secure, AND I figured some holiday cheer would be in the air.

I woke up early to feed the horses, and about mid-morning I made my way to the town. It was only a 45 minute drive, and, as I mentioned in previous posts, the landscape along the way was stunning.

Madrid is a small town, so parking wasn’t an issue. I found a spot in front of one of the shops, then began my walking adventure. For my first stop I, for some reason, walked into one of the local art galleries. I wasn’t in the market for anything there, but something drew me inside. It wasn’t long before I found out what.

As I was looking around the gallery, the man behind the counter began speaking to me. It turned out he was from Albany, NY. He and his wife (and now his adult children) are artists, and they decided to move to New Mexico to explore their art some 31 years ago. We exchanged war stories of winters back East. I asked him, and he told me, about his adventures in the West. Needless to say when I left the shop I not only felt full of good vibes, but I was reminded that I’m never really alone.

My next stop was at a place I had read about online, the Gypsy Gem. I was looking for some earrings for my mom, and this seemed the place to find them. When I entered the shop I was greeted by a young man in his 20s. He let me know to ask him for help should I need any, after which I began making my way around the shop.

Several moments later I found myself engaged in another full on conversation. This time I learned the young man had just moved to Madrid last month from Miami. He was having a hard time finding a job in sales there due to the tattoos on his arms and face, but a friend to him that his parents owned a shop here and would certainly hire him. They did, and here he was.

I also learned he was getting used to the colder weather. In fact, he was very excited to have purchased his first wood stove after learning just how expensive propane heat was. This young man’s stories touched me. Not because they were particularly endearing, but because I could very much relate to them.

I remembered having a hard time grappling with heating costs at my first post college apartment in Connecticut. I also remembered moving across the country to San Antonio, Texas due to a friend’s suggestion. It was like peering through a looking glass into the past. I shared with him my current journey which we bonded over, and, although I left the shop without a gift for my mother, my step was a bit lighter the rest of the day.

My step was not too light for an afternoon coffee however, so my next stop was the Java Junction. Note that I had to walk past this before arriving:

Photo park
Who knew there was such a thing as a Photo Park? Not I!
Front of coffee shop
I finally found a coffee roaster in New Mexico!

I was delighted to find they served and sold beans which were locally roasted in Santa Fe. I had yet to try any local roasts, and thankfully I was not disappointed. I stocked up on coffee for the house, then made my way to a local chocolate shop.

This stop was like the chocolate equivalent of Cheers. A local man sat on a stool chatting. A worker made chocolate in the back. The owner gave me tastes of her amazing chocolate masterpieces while chatting about friends and family. It was a really great environment. I bought some of the wares to have around the house when the family came back for the holiday, and was on my way.

After chocolate I made my way to a final jewelry shop. Within the first few minutes I saw a pair of earrings I liked. I was going to keep looking, but realized that energy would be wasted. These were the prize of the day!

I secured the turquoise beauties then left the shop and the town. When I arrived home, I put away my wares and enjoyed the quiet afternoon. Towards the end of the day, this view greeted me on my walk down to feed the horses.

Pink rimmed sky
Loved this view North as the Sun set.

When I was done, I made the trek back to the house and reflected on the beauty of a day well spent. To have strangers share their lives and art with me is something I’m truly grateful for. Not only does it expand my understanding of others, but it helps me reflect on myself, what I’ve been through, and who I want to be.

Not too bad for a day in small town New Mexico, right?

Being Me in Albuquerque

In the post documenting my visit to Santa Fe, I mentioned I was going to work on “doing me” in future adventures. What I meant by this was I planned to follow my own interests versus engaging in activities and adventures which I felt I should based off what others suggested. I’m proud to announce that the day after my trip to Santa Fe I was able to keep this practice of “doing me” intact in a Sunday adventure to Albuquerque.

Now, I’ll admit the day’s activities were framed by a friend’s suggestions. However, these suggestions matched up with the types of adventures I wanted to have. Seeing there was a fit, I made my way into town to peruse local shops in search of meaningful holiday gifts for friends and family.

My trip started with a stop at The Octopus and The Fox. This is a small shop near downtown Albuquerque which my friend recommended. The thing about the shop which I found inviting was the fact that they sell materials from local artists and craftspeople. My trip was on a Sunday, so I was not only able to easily find parking, but I was also the first person in the shop. I looked around the small space and found several meaningful surprises for friends including this card illustrated by a local artist:

Note card with illustrated penguins.
My friend holds his holiday card which was “made in Albuquerque”.

Feeling satisfied and fulfilled, I made my way back across town for a stop at a local art supply shop. The shop hadn’t yet opened when I arrived, so I parked and decided to walk around the area. Not only I was greeted with questionable signs:

18 mph speed limit sign
Yeah this sign definitely caught my attention. Then a friend told me that was the intention!

But I also found a coffee roaster!

Coffee roaster sign.
In a shocking turn of events I stopped for some coffee.

I secured a delicious coffee, then made my way back to the shop. There, the wonderful women working helped me pick out some great gifts for the kids in the family. With this done, I got in the car and started to head back into the mountains.

At this point in my adventures, I usually find myself reflecting on how I should have “done more” with my day, but not on this day. On this day, I sat with the satisfaction and good vibes earned from a day of following my own threads instead of grasping on to those of others.

When I got back to the house, I settled in with the help of these characters:

Long haired grey cat on a dog bed.
Jabula enjoys her oversized bed.
Siamese cat with blue eyes
Sparkles hanging out in his bed.
Horse in front of the Sun
Laddie enjoys a sunny day.
Mustang behind gate
Gambler on display.

I made my meals for the week while listening to podcasts and music. When done, I sat on the couch and sighed a huge sigh of contentment.

Being yourself really IS all it’s cracked up to be, isn’t it?

A Day in Santa Fe

Last weekend, I decided I was in need of an adventure. My choice of destination was none other than Santa Fe. Situated only 1.5 hours from where I’m staying, it’s far enough to get out for the day and close enough to make it home in time to feed the boys.

mustang standing by a gate
Say “hello” to Gambler
Chestnut Thoroughbred standing by gate
Say “hello” to Laddie

I was excited to see more of what I already know to be an amazingly beautiful state. Not only do I get to look at this view each day:

High desert terrain with mountains in the background
The view from the house

But I get to enjoy beautiful sights just about everywhere I go.

Road and mountains.
Along the way to Santa Fe.
High desert landscape
Another beauty along the drive.

I’ve learned in my travels that I’m unable to just show up somewhere, wander around, then enjoy myself; so Friday night before my adventure, I put together a loose outline of the day. I was vigilant about adding things that felt right and removing those that didn’t. I also stayed very aware of trying not to pack too much into the day.

The plan was to go to the old part of the city and peruse for Xmas gifts, then head to get some hot chocolate which a friend said was worthwhile. I decided on the old part of town despite a friend saying how much he hated it. I figured since it was my first time in the city I should at least check out the historical area, since that’s what people ‘should’ do. Boy was I wrong… ish.

I got to Santa Fe around 11, parked, then began my wander. I tried, really tried, to enjoy the shops and galleries that abounded. Yet, I couldn’t. All I could do was scoff at it all. It just felt so… prescribed!

I was able to wander into a shop which felt less yucky than most, but after an hour or two I was spent. I did manage to enjoy the architecture and sight of the area a bit though. Here let me share that with you:

Sante Fe shops
Shops in the old part of Santa Fe.
painting
Fun art outside a restaurant.
Painting of Snoopy
I do love this beagle!
Historical sign about billy the kid
Ok I’ll admit seeing this was pretty cool.

On my way out of the area, I wandered past a sign pointing to a second floor shop which sold “Arte, Libros, y Musica”. I was sold. Like metal to a magnet I ascended the stairs and wandered into a book filled shop straight out of the pages of a C.S. Lewis novel.

As I looked at the materials around me, I noticed something strange. Sure enough all the materials were written in either Spanish or Portuguese. My brain made this connection as a voice appeared from a room further back.

“¿Bueno?” said the voice.
“Hola,” came out of my mouth.
“Hola ¿esta bien hoy?” the voice replied.

From there I hacksawed my way through more Spanish until the man had mercy on me (probably more himself given my language abilities) and began speaking English. I went on to have quite the conversation with the shop owner who informed me I was in the second largest Latin American book store in the country!

We talked books, Mexico City, politics, you name it. I left the shop feeling connected and renewed.

And, ready for hot chocolate.

At the chocolate shop I had another in-depth conversation, and an amazing hot chocolate made from a native recipe which was 100s of years old! At this I decided it was time to head back.

On the drive I reflected on the day, and I observed myself starting to scold myself for not “enjoying the old part of the city more”. I stopped myself this time, then gave myself permission to accept myself instead.

It’s ok if I do or don’t like something that people say “should” be done. It’s also ok NOT to do these things which I know I don’t enjoy. In fact, my aim is to do less of what I don’t like and more of what I do like. If this means less touristy commercialism and more random conversations with strangers, you know I’m game.

The lesson? In future adventures I endeavor to “do me” without pause. I think this is really the only way to have less angst and frustration in adventuring times. And… less of these aspects in adventuring times, means less of them in other life moments as well.

I’m all in!