I’ve found that traveling around, much of the time alone, sparks these deeply reflective vibes I have. Since I’m in this mode so often nowadays, you can see why I was excited to receive the below note from a dear friend:
“Travel is so life-affirming and transformative, especially when traveling alone for some reason, I find. Something about you skimming like a stone across the lake of the world – not quite in and of the places you’re visiting… I don’t know. it becomes an excellent mirror for self-reflection, that lake.“
My excitement had many different catalysts. However, the parts I want to dissect today are those of skimming across the lake and the lake itself.
What AM I doing?
Traveling around the world… for what? Self-reflection? Can’t I just do that in one place? Why does one need to be alone for it?
To the main question: what am I doing? I didn’t fully know when I started this post, but by the end we get there. Read on.
I do know that I am on this journey for self-reflection, and that I’m unable to have the same magnitude of self-reflection when in one place, constantly surrounded by others.
By traveling the “lake of the world” I experience so much more than I would standing still in my comfort zone.
Couple this with “skimming across” said lake, and I find as I skip about, never quite in or of, I take on the role of the observer.
In this role, I can see and appreciate without preamble or bias many seemingly everyday occurrences.
I not only take in these new scenes, but I work to perceive them completely on my own terms without any direct outside influence.
Bringing the two sides of the equation together, the breadth of experiences gained as I travel and choose to take on the role of life observer, and the development of my own perspective on these experiences, is helping me to truly find and DEFINE myself.
By going outward into the world, I’m going inward into myself. The lake reflecting back, ftw!
Could one go through this process without putting themselves on my journey? Absolutely. In fact, I believe what I’m describing is a wordy description of a simple meditation practice… but I digress.
The result of the process of observing then developing perspective is a person who not only loves and honors themselves fully, but whose cup is so full they can’t help but extend love and support to the world around them.
I believe once you recognize your own grace (which I’m working on doing as I skim the lake of the world), it’s impossible not to see that you are part of a greater whole, a well-spring of grace. I also believe it’s impossible to miss the realization that if the greater whole is suffering, so too, are you, and therefore you work to help the world around you (to also help yourself).
As I was having these thoughts, the below quote found me (NOTE: for more on me and Einstein, click here).
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. One experiences oneself, one’s thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of one’s consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
~ Albert Einstein
I held my breath as I read the quote a second, then a third time. I wasn’t sure why I had this reaction at first. I just knew the words resonated with me on a deep level and I had to share them in this piece.
Now I understand why they were so meaningful. They explain better than I ever could what it is I AM doing.
I’m breaking myself out of the prison of delusion. I’m freeing myself by widening my circle of compassion. I’m learning to love and embrace myself through skimming across the lake of the world, so that I can embrace and love the whole.
To say I’m humbled by the power of these words is an understatement.
Here I sit on a couch in the Oakland mountains soaking up the morning Sun, listening to the soft din of wind chimes, and adoring a cup of coffee. As I turn my attention to writing, I think back on the road trip I just took from Edgewood, NM to this mountain retreat in Oakland, CA. There were several themes from the trip I wanted to explore in today’s post… hopefully I can do them justice.
To begin allow me to show you the route I drove earlier this February. (NOTE: Who chooses February to do a roadtrip? I suppose I did.)
I should note the route I took was a long, lonely drive across the New Mexico mountains, into the lands of the Navajo and Hopi, then up into the canyons and mountains of Arizona and Utah. Finally, I made my way down into the desert of Las Vegas and through one last mountain pass to Arvin, CA, a farm labor community just south of Bakersfield. Once back in California, it was an easy trip up Interstate 5 and into the Oakland mountains.
That was the external view of the trip, and dare I say it was the “simple” part to describe. Here, let me share some pictures from it before we get into the deeper stuff.
The internal part of the trip is a bit more challenging to talk about, but since this is a No Judgement Zone, I’ll give it a go. Here are some of the themes I considered along the way:
Theme 1: Trust that the universe has your back
Shortly before the trip began, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. I began reading it a few days before I set out and found the advice provided to be necessary as I traversed the terrains.
I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but driving in bad weather is probably one of my biggest fears. This is especially the case when I’m driving alone. So, when the day before I left Edgewood my friend, who is a pilot and always has his eyes on the weather, showed me some radar maps indicating a storm was going to move through the exact area I’d be driving in, I began to freak out.
“Am I going to be ok?”, I asked him as I looked at the swirls of blue, yellow, and orange. “Yep you’ll be fine. Just be aware”, he assured me.
His words and insights were helpful, but they didn’t halt my fears. That night as I was reading the above book, it seemed to read my mind. The lines I read talked about noticing your fears. It suggested that when you do, instead of feeding them, give them up to the universe and thank it for the lesson that having the fear was sure to bring. I used this mantra consistently as I drove, and sure enough my anxiety calmed.
As I traveled through New Mexico then Arizona, no bad weather found me! Then I got into Utah. It started as rain, then before I knew it I was in the mountains of Zion National Park in the midst of a snow storm!
I held my fears close, but before I let them overcome me, I let them go telling myself, “I’m a woman from upstate New York. I’ve got this! Thanks for the lesson, Universe. I release my fears.”
Shortly thereafter, I made my way safely to the inn I’d be staying at that night:
This theme of trusting the universe had my back extended well beyond weather. I used the mantra to release my fears around staying alone in motels and AirBnBs, and even smaller fears and anxieties around trying new places and things.
The more I trusted, the less I worried. The less I worried, the more present I could be. The more present I was, the more beauty I saw.
Trusting in the Universe is something I plan to take with me for days to come!
Theme 2: There is so much more to this world than me and yet I’m one with it all
This is a big concept with a crappy title, BUT it rang oh so true for me throughout the trip. As much as I got stuck in my own anxieties and fears, I was able to recognize that life happens around and without me. I was also able to reflect on how even though life is happening around and without me, I can still connect with it, and others, in a very real way.
For example, when I arrived in Gallup, NM the first night, I stopped to grab an afternoon coffee to revive me. The man working at the coffee shop was so incredibly kind to me, and he treated me as if we’d known each other for years. He correctly guessed I was on a long drive, and when I left with a delicious coffee in hand he said, “Enjoy that coffee, and safe travels!” I considered how the man’s entire life took place without me, but how in that moment it was just him and I.
I rolled that juxtaposition around until I arrived at my Airbnb for the night. The host greeted me and before long we were exchanging life stories. She told me about her time teaching on the Navajo reservation, her time in The Peace Corp, and her current life in Gallup. We connected on politics, life, and work. Before the night was through we said our goodbyes as she would be at work before I woke up the following day. Again I considered how close we were in that moment and yet how we’d never meet again.
The next day I entered the Navajo Nation, and stopped in the capital of Window Rock, AZ. Here I took in the veterans’ park, and the nearby museum.
All the while I was here I felt isolated and yet surrounded at the same time. As I came upon memorials and exhibits detailing the Navajo people’s past, I teared up as their pain seeped into my veins. Yet, I knew known of them.
As I left the museum, the woman at the information desk who had helped me called out, “Thanks for coming today! Have safe travels and a great day!” (NOTE: Everyone along this trip wished me a great day. Not sure if that’s a West thing or not.)
I made the long trek to Page, AZ where I stayed on the “street of little motels”.
While putting my goods in the community refrigerator that night, I met a man from Minnesota. He and his wife were in the area to escape the winter. Between this conversation and the one I had with the owner the next morning, I felt I was in the company of old friends. At the very least I was in the company of like minded individuals.
After each of these conversations where I was so highly connected, I’d go back to my room where I sat… alone.
I’m unsure where this second theme takes me from here, but even thinking back on the experience helps me feel connected in some way.
Theme 3: Meditation, I need more of it
This is another big one. Driving 20 plus hours over 6 days alone gives one a lot of time to think. And, given that I’m on this current journey that stems from a need to understand myself and my world further, I had a lot to think about.
I didn’t have a lot to think about because I’m on this journey. I had a lot to think about because there is so much I’ve chosen NOT to think about over the years. Instead I’ve chosen the path of distraction.
As I drove mile after mile and had interaction after interaction, I chose not to be distracted. I turned off the radio and sat with my thoughts.
I reflected on my fears. I thought about how scared to be alone I am, and about how the fear makes no sense because I’m alone a lot without peril. I thought about my family’s fears of being alone, and considered that maybe I had absorbed these over the years. I thought more on how I had defined myself by my past, my family, my community and never really defined me for myself.
One night I decided to restart my meditation practice. Though, instead of mindfulness practice, I decided to let my mind roam. I called this contemplation instead of meditation. As I was thinking on how I’d never defined myself, I asked myself the question “Who am I without my past?” over and over again.
Eventually a vision came to me. I saw before me many versions of my current self, all dressed in different outfits and all standing, but at different heights. The Russian doll metaphor came to mind.
There I was surrounded by all my selves, and I continued to ask the question:
Who am I without my past?
Finally, the shortest Lis pushed the others aside, stepped forward, and said, “I’m here! I always have been! You’ve just been ignoring me all this time.”
The vision was a powerful one and I sat with the energy awhile longer. When I came back to myself, I vowed to try to help that Lis grow, and I saw carving out this self reflection, contemplation, meditation time was the way to do so.
As I wrap up this piece up, I’ll admit I’m a bit deflated. My coffee is almost gone, the Sun has moved, and the wind has stilled. I’m left with just me, these words, and my guess at what you’ll think of them.
Once again I find myself alone and surrounded. Once again the Universe calls me to trust in it, and once again I call on myself to trust in myself.
All these insights, from one little road trip.
Let’s be honest, it was a hell of a trip… am I right?
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:
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.
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.
The past week or so has been another tough one full of anxiety, worry, and doubt. I spent much of my time letting my thoughts spin out of control and got very little sleep in the process.
What was I spinning over? The usual culprits (money, career, etc) were certainly present, and they were accompanied by an overarching concern of not having “a plan” for my life.
I thought I had a plan once. I was going to progress in my career, buy a home, get married, etc, but then there was the realization that many parts of said plan weren’t mine. With this realization my current life path began.
As I unfold myself then let go of, add to, and realign parts of my life plan, there are moments were I feel quite exposed. These are the times where I haven’t yet filled the gaps left by letting go of parts of the old plan, and these times leave me feeling uber vulnerable… and scared.
When this fear and vulnerability arise (as they did this past week), I question everything and find myself only focusing on these reactions; hence the spinning. I think we all do this as we go through the process of rediscovering and realigning with our true selves, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less challenging.
One line of thinking that I brought to the surface this week was how I choose to see life as final and of two dimensions. I view circumstances as “If this, then that” as opposed to “if this, then maybe a whole lot of different things”. I think this two dimensional thinking is a thorn in my progress. Since it came to the surface I’ve been working to release it and extend my perspective.
The line of thinking came to the surface in two ways. First was a response to an email I sent a dear friend updating her on my current thinking on letting go of old friendships. She replied to said email with, “I’ve tolerated some people who were on their path and maybe not in a great space and you know what, I don’t know what to tell you, I was in the same place I think at your age, just be okay with it, you’re fine, people are fine, life is fine!”
Second, a friend was telling me about a similar discussion she had recently. Her response to the parties present, who were bringing up similar thoughts to the ones I was having, was “the friends you’re letting go for now may very well come back”. I know this idea seems obvious, but it’s something I’ve never considered. I never thought that all that I’m letting go could indeed return to me one day in a new, improved form (or in a old, unimproved form).
I believe it was having these insights, then targeting my two dimensional thinking, which allowed me to start to calm down enough to push past my fears and dig deeper. I mustered up the courage to share my story with yet another friend whom I was visiting in Connecticut.
He responded to my fears of not having a plan with the usual advice. I need to figure out myself first. I need to continue to question everything about what I like, what I don’t, and why. By doing this, by exposing my core, I can create a plan and walk a path that is true to me. Until then any plan I put together will be someone else’s plan, and following someone else’s plan will ultimately cause me angst and discontent.
I question why this message is so hard for me to keep in mind, but now I think I realize it’s because that journey of letting go, having gaps, and needing to fill them feels so scary and daunting.
What if we just let the gaps stick around for awhile? What if instead of rushing to fill the gaps, and focusing on the fear of never having the gaps filled, I focused on the possibilities of filling them? What if I choose the positive and not the negative?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but given how much sleep I lose to the former, I think I’m finally ready to try the latter. Here’s hoping.