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!

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.


Just a Bracelet

What you see in the picture above is a simple beaded bracelet, but to me it represents much, much more. This is the bracelet the homeowner of the Tucson house offered me as a departing gift. She often stops on the way back from her adventures and buys jewelry made by the local Navajo tribes. This was one such piece.

I put it on and wore it pretty consistently even as I arrived here in Charlotte. A few nights ago I set it on the bathroom counter for the night, and sure enough the next day it was gone. Of course I looked at the loss as my fault, as this is the kind of thing that happens when you’re staying in a house with a couple of curious cats.

Cat looking out window
1 of 2 curious cats

My gut hurt as I recognized the bracelet was gone. How could I be so careless? I’d only had it a couple of weeks and already I had lost it… how stupid of me!

These be-ratings were only part of the story though. I saw my losing the bracelet not just as careless, but as separating me from the experiences I had in Tucson. I saw it as a fracturing of my journey; a carelessness which meant a disregard for the lessons I had learned.

Yeah, I’m that hard on myself.

At the same time, I didn’t panic or search high and low for the item. I reminded myself that I carried the sentiments with me; bracelet or not. The bracelet was simply that, a bracelet. It was pretty, but losing it didn’t mean my ultimate demise.

I teetered back and forth between these two points of view for several days. At times I felt guilty that I wasn’t more torn up over losing such an heirloom, then other times I reminded myself it was no heirloom.

As I was talking with a friend overseas about nothing in particular, I felt moved to share with him this story. The sensation to do so came out of nowhere, but it was powerful. I spewed the story out as he listened patiently. When I was done he smiled at me then said, “You of course know all these experiences and lessons are inside of you. You carry them with you.”

Of course I knew this.

Hearing his words made the decision final. I stopped the teetering and let the bracelet go without remorse. I felt free.

The next night I was sitting on the couch watching a movie. Out of nowhere the kitten jumped on my lap, paused as if to set something down, then jumped off my lap.

When I looked down, you know what I saw;

Just a bracelet.


Characters Old and New: A Reflection

I’m writing this post on the Friday after American Thanksgiving. (NOTE: I refuse to call this day “Black Friday” in my protest against worshiping materialism. Hey… I’m trying here.) I sit reflecting on the events of yesterday which involved me driving across a city I’m not from to have Thanksgiving dinner with a high school friend and her family. The day was humbling, but it was also very comforting.

My biggest take away from the day, at least so far, is how un-alone and taken care of I feel even as I travel the country alone. As I think about yesterday I consider how far I am from the girl I was in upstate New York those 20 years ago, and yet, how I had Thanksgiving dinner with people I know and love from that time in my life. Strange how that happened, right?

So many steps have been taken in-between, and still they led me right back to where I was. I’m changed, yes. Those around me changed as well, of course. But, there’s something that binds us; some sort of deep experience which chiseled its way into our roots and changed us forever.

During these reflections, I also think about, and am grateful for, how much more comfortable I feel in my life. Besides these moments where I’m reinstated into my comfort zone from old, I’m finding goodness and comfort when outside that zone as well.

For example, my travel from Albuquerque to Charlotte involved me flying standby. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, standby is an adventure I recommend going through at least once. It’s a trip… pun intended.

In this case I was flying as a guest of an employee (NOTE: This is called a “non-rev” ticket which I’m gathering stands for Non-Revenue ticket) and this status put me at the bottom of the standby totem pole (NOTE: Employees and their family members get a higher status than my ‘guest’ status). Being at the bottom of said totem pole meant I would be the first to get bumped from a flight if it filled up. The plan was for me to get to the airport early to increase my chances. (NOTE: by early we are talking 4 AM. Yeah, that early.)

When I got to the gate, I told the agent I was flying standby. She took my name then asked me to sit it out and wait. Several moments later my friend in Charlotte said my chances of getting there were slim to none if I followed our original path. She suggested I go speak to the gate agent and ask her advice. I began panicking. I didn’t want to spend the whole day trying to get on a flight only to get stranded in a random city.

So, as the agents began boarding guests on the plane, I went up to the desk afraid to be interrupting their most important task. I explained my situation to one of the agents, apologized for the inconvenience, and hoped. She immediately put me at ease. “No worries. I’ll take care of you like I take care of my kids in these situations.”

Sure enough, she re-rerouted me completely and I made it to Charlotte several hours later. I have no idea why she bestowed her kindness on me, but she was sure to add, “Don’t you worry, girl. I’ll be watching over you all day.” Wow!

Shortly after this interaction, I was seated waiting for the next flight when I man sat down next to me. We began talking and very soon got to the topic of my location independent life. Instead of asking me the usual questions, he said, “Do you get bored”?

You know it, Mister.

Come to find out he was once a nomad himself. We carried on an in-depth conversation where he shared his experiences, reaffirmed my lifestyle, and provided me the ever needed comfort and confidence.

So you see, between yesterday, and moments like those I’ve shared here, it’s hard to feel alone in the world even when I spend SO much time alone. These moments, though not new, have also become so much more meaningful and impactful as I’ve stripped away the noise which once distracted me from them.

I like to think there are always characters like these coming on and off the stage in this play we call life. My goal is to be the best version of myself during those scenes, and the ones in-between too.


Getting to the Root

I write to you after a week spent back on the East Coast. My current location is Lincolnton, NC; a smaller town about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. It’s rural here. It’s maybe not as rural as where I grew up, but there is certainly a great deal here which reminds me of my hometown.

Not the least of these reminders are my childhood friends who currently live in the area. In fact, I’m here because a friend whom I’ve known since I was 4 years old needed a pet sitter while her and her husband honeymoon in New Zealand. I am delighted to be that pet sitter! (NOTE: Their pets are really cute… AND they have a beagle)

Beagle on a bed
Jack gets into bed.
Cat posing
Arya strikes a pose.
Cat curled up
Pickle settles in for TV time.
dog and cats curled up on a couch
The pets curl up for a family cuddle on the couch.

Being surrounded by reminders of my youth has me thinking of a line from a book I recently read:

After all, it is the root that looks after the survival of an organism. It is the root that has withstood severe changes in climatic conditions. And it is the root that has regrown trunks time and time again. It is in the roots that centuries of experience are stored, and it is this experience that has allowed the tree’s survival to the present day. ~ The Hidden Life of Trees; Peter Wohlleben

When I read this, I paused. I’ve often thought of my current journey as one in which I’m getting back in touch with my roots. When one spends so much time alone without much external stimulus and distraction, it’s kind of hard not to go through this process. It’s a process where I’m constantly figuring out and trying to own who I am, why I am, what I believe, and how I want to live in this world. It’s also a process where I investigate how these beliefs were established, or became rooted, to be begin with.

If, as the author says, a being’s roots are the key to its survival of chaotic and changing times, it seems a necessary exercise to get back in touch with mine. After-all, they are what store my experiences and allow me to be who I am in my present day life. If I don’t unearth them, I fear I’ll remain a shell of what others say I should be instead of identifying with my core and living my own narrative.

And you know what… I’ve lived as a shell for far too long.

Guess I’ll keep digging.


Get Personal

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

Get Personal

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

“Hobbits are a clannish and highly sociable people.”

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

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

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

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

I’m lucky.

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

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

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

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

Score another for Tolkien and his happy hobbits!


Experiencing Oneness

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

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

Gila National Forest Sign
Entering the Catwalk Trail.

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

“Which road?” one of the men responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pueblo prayer
This quote got me.

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

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

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

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

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

Oneness

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

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

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

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

My answer? No, I don’t think I was.


Making Friends with Strangers

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

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

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

Desert view
What a view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wooden crosses
Crosses made by José.

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

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


Making Light of My Troubles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel ridiculous, actually.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Making Life Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about making life yours.

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

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

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

Making life our own.

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

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

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

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

They make my life mine.

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