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.

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!

What’s in a Moment?

On my last night in Tucson I was lucky enough to have dinner at the house of some new friends. (NOTE: These are also friends of my RVA friends.) My time with them was (too) short, but it was impactful. As we sat outside discussing just about everything, I felt the need to get my anxieties off my chest.

I described to the two of them the doubts I’ve been having. Most specifically, Are the short relationships I’m making while on the road a reflection of me only wanting to have “good” moments as opposed to hard ones with friends? Am I missing out on that other side of the person to person experience? Will I ever be happy somewhere and with someone?

You get the drift.

The one friend stopped me dead in my tracks. She described to me how she had a recent conversation with their daughter, the topic of which touched heavily on my current existential woes. Her response to both her daughter, and now me, was simple. And, as many simple responses are, it was quite profound.

She described a story in which her and a friend were discussing memories and moments in life. They determined that even though they may not remember every story of their life exactly as it happened, the moments still impacted them for the remainder of their days. She encouraged me to consider this simple wisdom for myself:

All we have is a moment. Enjoy it.

Of course I am paraphrasing this friend’s wisdom which I’m sure was much more eloquent and detailed, but this sentiment is what I carried with me. As soon as she said this all the Buddhist lessons I encountered over the years came flooding back. This was the fact I have been overlooking. I felt it stir me.

When I left town the next day, I left knowing I had the support of others to encourage me onward. The road took me into the mountains to the beautiful state of New Mexico. Being from the East Coast I had no idea what to expect from this state, but to say I’m stunned by all it has to offer would be an understatement.

This emotion was underscored by the AirbBnB rental I stayed in on my first night. Unfortunately, I only had one night here, but even that was enough to fill me with comfort and inspiration. And, most importantly, it granted me the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had.

I pulled up to the property to find the owner, Beth, working on one of her many art projects. Here, let me share it with you:

artwork
I was mesmerized by this piece.

She welcomed me and stated I would be the first AirBnB guest to walk across this new installation. Woohoo! We began chatting and I found myself quickly recapping my anxieties from the night before. You all know how she responded:

A moment is all we have. Live it up!

I guess that was all the universe had to tell me on the topic, and I figured I may as well start listening.

I started by taking a tour around this beautiful property; my jaw dropping at every turn. This woman had the ability to make anything and everything look beautiful. Her attention to detail was simply amazing, and the feeling her work gave me was greatly needed. Here let me share the pictures already:

Mountain view
A view of the property including the mountains in the distance.
Mountain views
More mountain views.
Tree view
Views of the trees surrounding the property.
horse
There were even horses onsite.
outdoor kitchen and living room
The outdoor kitchen and living space.
Tea set
I loved this tea set.
Metal peacock.
Some art marks the path.
Cabin door
The front door of the cabin.
Desk and chairs
The workspace in the cabin.
Spiral staircase
This is a staircase the owner and an artist friend built. Enchanting!
Front of small building
The front of one of the galleries on site.
Gallery
A gallery interior. Pretty amazing, right?
outdoor living space
The outdoor kitchen and living area at night.

As I sat outside enjoying the cool mountain air, I took in Beth’s life. In this small town of maybe 150 people, tucked away in the Gila National Forest, she had people stopping by to help her with art projects or help her fix something or other pretty much all afternoon. She had galleries onsite with incredible local art which people knew to come see. I noted the dream like quality of my experience there, and also noted how much I loved the quaintness of it all.

I reminded myself there are probably just as many downsides to her life than any other life, but since I’m living moment by moment at this point, I pushed those thoughts aside and simply enjoyed the good vibes.

The next day I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new day. It was the best I’ve ever felt waking up in the morning… I have to be honest. I packed up my gear and got on the road for another 4 hours of driving up to the El Morro area. Along the way, the sentiments of the past few days rang loudly for me, and I finally connected with what my friend was expressing on that Tucson night.

These moments I experienced over the past few days were short indeed. Further, I may never experience the people or places again, but the fabric of them has shifted my perspective. Since perspective is everything, they have shifted my life.

So, what’s in a moment? Seems like everything is, no?

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.

A Slow Day in Bakersfield

I arrived in Bakersfield, CA last night after a 4 hour drive up from Orange County, CA. The drive was supposed to be about 2.5 hours, but Los Angeles traffic is real. There’s no doubt about that!

I didn’t know what to expect from Bakersfield, really. Not only have I never been here, but I’ve never even really heard about it. I did get some not so great reactions this week as I was telling people I was stopping here for a few days, and it’s safe to say those reactions were confirmed when I entered town. The area, though it contains some cute homes and some pretty scenery, is pretty depressed. I’ll admit I didn’t feel all that safe when I arrived. Though I told myself to keep an open mind because 4 hours in a car will strain anyone’s judgement.

I got to the AirBnB I rented (One that I HIGHLY recommend if you’re ever in town. The space is quiet, clean, and relaxing. The homeowners are lovely to boot!), and was pretty frazzled from the drive. I did muster up the energy to head to the grocery store to get some food and wine, and it was on this trip where my suspicions of Bakersfield were confirmed.

When I woke up this morning I decided I would not make any sort of schedule for the day. I was tired of living by a schedule. I did some yoga, then got myself cleaned up and dressed. I then decided I would take some of the things I had set aside to donate to a local donation center. I got in the car and drove towards the donation center noticing the town along the way. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a bad place, just very different from Orange County.

I arrived at the donation center and a local woman greeted me as I got my bags out of the car. “Excuse me, miss” she said to me. “Can you help a girl out? Do you have shoes in those bags?” I felt myself cringe, saw myself going to ignore or deny her, then caught myself and said, “I’m sorry, but no. I do have clothes though. Do you need some of those?” I handed my bags over to the woman than said something I rarely say to her, “Bless you”. “God bless you too, miss.” Despite my atheist ways, the exchange warmed my heart.

Back in the car, I made my way over to a local coffee roaster I was excited to try. Blue Oak Coffee did NOT disappoint (I did note how the name was the same name of the cafe I worked at in college. Coincidence?). Quite the opposite, actually.

sign in blue oak coffee roasters
One of the signs inside Blue Oak Coffee Roasters

When I walked in the owner and another shop worker greeted me kindly. When I asked what they had brewed I was offered tastes of several in-house roasted coffees. I settled on one of them (they were all awesome), then also ordered what sounded like an amazing Chilaquiles breakfast plate. The women confirmed that their town was a bit rough, but I also noted how both seemed content living here.

As my breakfast was being made, the three of us talked further. I told them of my journey and they told me about opening the cafe. One of the women was originally from New York. She grew up in a town not too far from where I grew up. In fact, one of her dear friends went to the same school as an ex-boyfriend of mine. Coincidence?

When my breakfast came out, I was greeted with this sight:

Breakfast at Blue Oak
Breakfast at Blue Oak.

The cook came out behind it asking if I wanted lime to add to the dish. “I do what the chef recommends,” I responded. Several minutes into my enjoying the plate immensely, the cook came back out to check on me. I told her how her creation was perfectly spiced. Hot, but not so much so my mouth was on fire. How did she do it? Smoked cayenne and chili flakes. Brilliant!

I made my way back to the house and as I was parking my car saw the best sight. My AirBnB hosts and their daughter were setting up a lemonade stand just like people used to do back in the day. Again, my heart warmed.

I came inside and worked for a few hours. Then, I decided to walk over to the Metaphysical Store I had read about. (NOTE: The woman at the Blue Oak confirmed this was a great spot.)

The enchanted cottage sign out front.
The Meta-physical Store.

When I got inside I inquired about getting a reading. Sure enough, one of their readers was available! For the next hour, Marcia (whom I also highly recommend!) guided me through answers to some of my questions. Namely, “I have no idea what I’m doing traveling around to random towns alone. Can you give me a hint?”

Our discussion left me in a reflective mode. One of her main points was how I need to write about and share my experiences on the road more. And so, dear reader, here we are.

The rest of the day I worked and hung out at the AirBnB. I learned the lemonade stand was a success and Bakersfield really does get super hot in the afternoons. Tonight I’ll be continuing to follow Marcia’s advice (which included: meditate, read more, trust you’re being led, and have fun), and tomorrow I’ll be back on the road again.

My next stop? Seaside, CA. But, for tonight I’m here soaking up the Bakersfield love and remembering that what’s on the surface isn’t always what lies beneath.