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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
I took a few moments to peruse the small museum attached, and upon entering saw this sign:
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.
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:
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.
As I thought about it I asked myself; If we’re all one, was I really standing up at that site all alone?
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Delight in the Simple Things
Make Light of Your Troubles
Cultivate Good Character
Cherish and Create Beauty
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.