Cherish and Create Beauty

I’m sure there are a number of you out there who have been waiting patiently for the next installment of The Six Keys of Happiness as defined by Tolkien and as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy.

Wait no more, dear reader! Today we’re talking about key #5: Cherish and Create Beauty.

When I sat down to write this post my mind was focused on cherishing beauty. I thought about sharing more regarding all the beauty I’ve seen while on the road, and about how cherishing those moments of beauty has greatly contributed to my happiness.

Trees along a paved walk way.
Beautiful Oakland trails.

Of course this sentiment is true, but as I re-read this section of the aforementioned book, I realized something I haven’t internalized.

That being how the happiest characters in The Lord of the Rings stories are also the most creative. They aren’t just beautiful to look at, they also contribute to the world’s beauty. I stopped at this realization, and took it in. Could the following equation be true?

Being creative = increased happiness

I should note here I’m of the school of thought that all of us are creative. I wasn’t always an attendee of this school. I actually didn’t realize HOW creative I was until I started this phase of my journey. Further, I have to admit that it’s true; my increased awareness and practice of creating has a direct correlation to an increase in my overall happiness.

I should also note that I don’t believe I’m creative in the societal sense of the word. I don’t paint, sculpt, or draw. I take pictures, but I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. I even joke how I don’t use colors in my consulting practice outputs.

But, I am pretty damn creative.

I’m creative in the way I use words (NOTE: Creative doesn’t necessarily mean skilled, haha.) I’m creative in how I put together my living situations. I create new ways to make the pets I sit more comfortable with me. I also create new friendships wherever I go.

Creating beauty isn’t always visual. You may create and share a beautiful feeling or idea. You may work in an ugly place, but your encouraging words at work may create a beautiful moment between you and a co-worker. Creating beauty is something we can ALL do. It’s something we should all do.

Why? Because in these moments of creating we become so absorbed and present that all of our suffering falls away. It is in these moments of unselfconscious absorption we find ourselves the most happy!

So take a moment today to think about the beauty you create in this world. I’m serious. You only need 5 minutes or less. Then, go forth and make more beauty. I bet you’ll be happier for it.

I know I am!

On a Rainy Day in Zion

I write to you from Springdale, Utah (NOTE: This is the 38th state I’ve visited! Only 12 more to go!). I’m sitting at the Bumbleberry Inn nestled in the mountains of Zion National Park. Allow me set the stage for you:

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

I meant to be hiking during this time, but considering the amount of rain pattering outside, I’m inside writing instead. It’s ok, though. I like the writing as much as the hiking.

In all honesty, I’m conflicted about what to write today. I WANT to write to you about my Albuquerque to Oakland road trip and about how it’s been up to this point. I want to tell you all the growing and learning I’ve done along the way. I also want to share the pictures of the amazing sites I’ve been graced with, and I’d like to tell you the stories of the people I’ve met. But, I can’t do it.

Trust that I WILL share all of this with you someday soon, but know that now, as I write to you from this rainy place, I realize I want to write about those things because they are easy to write about. I also see I NEED to write about the hards things right, for this is a life practice have ignored for far too long. So, writing about the hard things wins out today folks. Here goes.

When I left the East Coast less than a week ago (I write to you on February 14th. I think this will go live a week or two from now.), I left with a heavy heart. As I spent the next few days in New Mexico packing and preparing for the road trip, the weight didn’t lessen. Curious, I reflected back over the past several weeks and recognized I’d been existing in a somewhat depressed state.

For example, I saw that when I looked toward my trip to Europe this Spring, I felt no tingle of excitement. When new (and amazing!) work opportunities were presented to me I saw them as chores instead of fun challenges. When others asked about my journey, I shrank back from sharing it. During these reflections, I saw how inward facing I had become.

As I brought all of this to mind, I also remembered a discussion I had with a friend while in NYC. He was worried about my lack of direction in this current journey, and frankly so was I.

Hell, why don’t I just say it… so AM I.

I should note that this lack of direction is not new. I realize to many of you who know me this may seem inaccurate. I probably seem very sure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I assure you, this is very much not the case. I’ve said it before. I’ve spent my entire life building the person I think I should be, instead of accepting and loving the person I am. (NOTE: I think alot of us do this. I know I’m certainly not alone in it. Anywhos, back to the story.)

All of these reflections continued to weigh on me. Then, yesterday as I was driving the 4.5 hours from Gallup, NM to Page, AZ, I could take the weight no longer. I started offing it at the Navajo Nation Museum. There I did something I’d never done before. As I walked among the artworks, I stopped in front of each one and asked myself, “How does this piece of art make me feel?” Funny enough, I even answered myself too!

I’m embarrassed to say it, but this self talk was new to me. You see, when you’re busy making a life you think you should have, you don’t ask yourself what life you actually want very often, or at all. Instead, you observe what makes other people happy and try to use those things to make you happy. But.. you never ask yourself if you’re actually happy. Doing so would be sacrilegious! The jig would be up!

Needless to say, I felt a little lighter when I left the museum.

I got back into my Subaru, Liam, and continued the trip. Through mile after mile of reservation land, I noticed small shifts. Instead of listening to music or podcasts the entire time, I took breaks to think. During these breaks I asked myself questions and when I couldn’t come up with answers I sat with the emotions and frustrations.

All of this helped to ease the weight a tad bit more.

Later that evening, I opened up to another friend about everything. I shared with him, quite unwillingly, how lost and lonely and WRONG I’ve been feeling. I also shared with him my reflections from the day; the biggest being me realizing this situation didn’t happen to me. I created my own discontent through my false actions over the years!

I worked to not judge myself. I told myself that whatever I’ve done in my life it’s been to keep myself safe, and I haven’t hurt others in the process. The only real person I’ve hurt is myself… and I’m tired of DOING that. The weight is just too heavy.

For the next two hours, said friend broke down his own journey to me (yet again… thankfully he’s patient). He reiterated to me the keys to finding and loving ourselves which is the only path to releasing a life you think you should live, and gaining the beauty of a life you actually want. It’s the only true way to get rid of the weight I’ve been carrying.

The keys to doing this are so very simply in concept, but putting them into actions is “the work” that everyone keeps talking about.

Here are the keys to life happiness as explained to me by my friend. Hold on to your hat!

1. Practice acceptance
2. When you’re unable to accept, ask yourself “why” until you have the answer.

Easy, right?

Right.

I want to tell you I’ll be able to have a consistent practice of acceptance by the time I’m done with this phase of my journey, but I can’t.

What I do know is that nothing external can make this consistent practice happen. It doesn’t matter how spiritual the practice nor how beautiful the landscape it’s done in. It doesn’t matter how many interactions I have with strangers, nor how many fun facts I learn. I could take all the yoga classes and go to all the meditations in the world and it still wouldn’t guarantee a consistent practice of acceptance to lead me to self love.

This is what I considered as I drove the miles today; the knowledge that it is due to one thing and one thing only if I succeed in this self love endeavor. That thing is both the challenge and the reward. It is the question and the answer. It is the origin AND the destination.

Yeah, that thing is me.

No pressure.

Cultivate Good Character

During my recent stay in Charlotte, I had the treat of watching the Lord of the Rings movies with two newbies to the series. For any LOTR fan, this is quite the delight! Answering questions, waiting for reactions, noticing things you didn’t the first 20 times you watched… it’s a time that can’t be beat. You can also bet I was WAY more excited by this than they were… what can I say, the story never gets old!

It is this, Tolkien’s masterpiece, which inspires post number 4! Well, actually it inspired The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and it is this latter text which bolsters our discussion on the Six Keys of Happiness as defined by Tolkien.

What is key to happiness number 4? Cultivate Good Character

The authors explain how this aspect is pretty much cut and dry for Tolkien. In LOTR, morally good characters meet with good ends and morally bad characters do not. There is only a very slight deviation from this in his books, but for the most part it’s a solid bet that if you are good in Tolkien’s middle earth, life will work out for you, and if not… sorry. Thus, it is clear that being a good person is something Tolkien thinks everyone should aim for.

I can’t deny that cultivating my own good character has been something of a focus for me along this path. As I reflect on when and why this started, I’m left blank. Was I always this way? I think not. Sure I have always been an OK person, but as of late I’ve found myself focused much more on putting energy out into the world that I would want to receive back. Further, I don’t want to receive bad, angry, resentful vibes, so I work not to give them out.

In addition, good character to me is about, as the Buddhists would say, cultivating Right Action, Right Speech, Right View, and the like. Meaning, I work to only take actions which I think are good for all involved. I try to keep my word when I say I’m going to do something. When I speak I try not to say bad things about others. I even look to see the whole picture in a situation and not blindly accuse.

Of course, I’m not always successful at these tasks. In fact I’m maybe successful half the time if I’m lucky. But, I do think the practice here is as important as the result. After-all, the key is to Cultivate Good Character, NOT Somehow Have Good Character Without Having Worked On It.

In this way, I plan on going about my journey towards a happy Hobbit style life. Doing so thus far has led to great conversations, increased knowledge, comfortable stays, and fun times.

In the end, what else is there, really?

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!

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.

Delighting in the Simple Things

Not to long ago I shared some reflections I had been having (and continue to have) in regards to what it is I’m actually doing on my current journey. It should come as no surprise that my realizations and musings related back to a book devoted to The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy. I’m a devotee, what can I say?

In the previous post, I briefly touched on “Tolkien’s Six Keys to Happiness” and I thought it would be fun to dive into each one a bit further and describe how I’m seeing (or not seeing) each play out along the path I currently walk/drive. Since this is my first piece in this series, I’ll start with numero uno:

Delight in the Simple Things

I don’t think the concept itself needs much explanation. For you LOTR fans out there, the way the authors of the aforementioned book tell it is Tolkien exemplifies both Hobbits and Elves (who are very different, but also very content beings) as happy creatures. He lends this as such due to the fact that both live uncomplicated lives close to nature, and thereby to each other, and both, in their own way, delight in life’s simplicities.

I do believe doing these things has been a major part of my journey thus far, and has also contributed to my increased feelings of fulfillment and contentment even after only a few months. In fact, by letting go of more and more stuff which I thought defined me (material goods, career perceptions, characteristics of ambition and power, etc) I find myself not only having more space and time to delight in the simple things, but I also see myself just DOING the delighting without prompt or feeling I need to.

For example, I know I’ve already shared with you pictures of the surrounding area here in Templeton and of the pets I’m lucky enough to be spending September with, but here are some more for good measure:

Vineyard on a hill, cows in the foreground.
I mean… who doesn’t want to look at this sight each day?
Sycamore tree
I think this tree is so interesting looking, I can’t help but stare at it each time we walk by.
Black Tail Deer grazing.
I love when wildlife allows me to watch it just… live.
Terrier on the floor looking up
I could stare at this face for hours!
English Spaniel looking back at me.
Another face I could spend some quality time appreciating.

I share these pictures for more than just good measure actually. These moments I’ve captured here are so incredibly simple. Yet, each fills me with a tremendous amount of gratitude and joy. I could look at them for extended periods of time and not NEED anything else. These simple things bring me delight.

Further, I can tell you this. I missed these moments for years as I instead used all of my brain space to figure out how to be “A Better”.

You know what I’m talking about. Thoughts like, “How will I be a better consultant?”, “I need to be a better friend.”, “I need to be a better woman.”, “How can I be a better adult?”, and on and on were constantly circulating through my brain. I would then determine I needed to actually DO these things and come up with plans and schedules and schemes which would get me to the Better!

Here’s the thing. All of this thinking and doing took a lot of my energy, a lot of my time, and never actually made me feel better. Go figure. Maybe I should have started living like a Hobbit a long time ago.

Now rest assured I still have these thoughts daily. In fact, I’m having them right now as I write to you. I’m telling myself I should be working on figuring out how I’m going to be making money when I start traveling abroad and being a more consistent and professional consultant instead of exploring the ideas I’m sharing with you.

My soul knows better.

Instead of giving into the better, I use the trust in myself and this process we call life to work to accept the thoughts I am having, but also to continue to write and explore what I’m sharing. For each battle my soul wins, I find myself naturally delighting more in the simple things.

I look over at my morning cup of coffee in awe. I look over at this face and want to cry and laugh and just feel:

English Spaniel on twin bed.
My writing companion encourages me.

In these soul first moments I see myself laughing at my anxieties and my human awkwardness. I then look forward to my afternoon entertainment of going outside to see if there is a bird in the bird bath, and if there is, watching it just being a bird.

In short, instead of striving to be something, I can finally revel in being me. And, instead of seeing myself as some separate entity moving about the Earth, I see my communion with the world and lives around me and I appreciate the profound simplicity of this communion. It was there all along, but I blinded myself from it.

Finally, I notice in these few minutes before the Better thoughts start up again that doing this reveling just feels really good. In fact, you’re right, Tolkien, it does make me happy.

An Attempt at Some Answers

Two years ago, I found myself in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; one of the stops on a road trip a dear friend and I were taking from New York to Seattle. On the morning we had in Sioux Falls I was taking advantage of an opportunity to have breakfast with another friend in real life. Before we met up I hadn’t told this friend why I was in his native city, just that I was in town and hoped to see him.

After we arrived at the cafe, hugged our hellos, and made further introductions, my friend asked me two questions that have stayed with me.

“What are you doing here? Why are you doing this?”

To this day I’m not quite sure I know the answers especially in regards to my current adventures. However, due to some wisdom imparted by this book, I’m feeling a bit more grounded in my efforts.

Come on, you know you’re not surprised by another Lord of the Rings lesson learned.


In truth, I always looked at what I was doing as some sort of hero’s journey, so I suppose likening it to a quest makes sense. BUT, since I’m not trying to actually save the world, the connections weren’t as obvious for me. They became more so as I read the chapter entitled ‘“My Precious”: Tolkien’s Fetishized Ring’.

The chapter focuses on how Tolkien uses the fetishization of material objects (the grandest example is that of the One Ring), and the resistance of this fetishization, as a way to exert his philosophical viewpoint on humanity. That viewpoint being: Externalizing our passions and worth onto external objects will not lead to a happy life.

As someone who has actively been giving up many of my own material possessions, this topic intrigued me. The paragraph which hits home starts off “In order to benefits from these gifts, the protagonists of The Lord of the Rings have first to give up their possessions, their homes and families. The Quest of the Fellowship charts an attempt to deal with the fetishism of the object, and to restore relations with people and with things.”

Oh snap. Is THAT why I’m here? Is it why I’m “doing this”? Am I trying to restore relations with people, things, myself? I believe in a way I am. Part of what I’m loving so much about my life right now is meeting others and connecting in the moment. I’m seeing my appreciation for people, animals, and environments renewed, and I’m really, really loving this outcome.

Touché, Tolkien.

Another chapter which has heightened my self reflections is the one entitled “Tolkien’s Six Keys to Happiness”. The idea is we move towards a more full life by taking the stance of the hobbit folk and following the 6 steps laid out in the book. Here let me share them with you:

  1. Delight in the Simple Things
  2. Make Light of Your Troubles
  3. Get Personal
  4. Cultivate Good Character
  5. Cherish and Create Beauty
  6. Rediscover Wonder

What stood out to me here in relation to my current journey is that I’m moving towards each of these points without intentionally meaning to. Indeed, once I gave up a home, many material things, and the “certainties” of life which I thought I held dear, a whole new world opened up for me. I care so much more about so much less. I feel fuller by emptying out the “junk”. It’s a truly beautiful experience.

As I think back on those questions, and reflect on the start of some answers, I realize I’m nowhere close to being 100% “right” with any of it. Who knows, maybe as I read more of the book I’ll have more answers to share. Or maybe the less I concern myself with the answer, the more it will appear.

I think by know we know what Tolkien would have to say about it at least.