Insights from a Life Well-Traveled

My last day in Lisbon I had coffee with my first Lisbon Airbnb host and her daughter. Although I don’t believe I’ve mentioned them here before, they were quite instrumental in my falling in love with their city, country, and way of life.

Book lined living space
The walls of the entire flat looked like this, lined with books!

I remember sitting in our favorite neighborhood pastelaria, reflecting on how we met. I had arrived in Lisbon on a Sunday afternoon, then made my way to the Campo de Ourique neighborhood where I’d be spending my first two weeks.

I easily found the address and rang the bell. After entering I hiked up to the first floor to be greeted by a lovely woman with welcoming and comforting energy. She let me into her apartment, and asked me to sit down with her and her two daughters who were visiting for Mother’s Day.

At first, I felt like an intruder, but after several minutes in their presence I realized I was in the exact place I was supposed to be. I told them of my travels, and they each told me of themselves.

My host was a retired professor of philosophy, and each daughter had earned PhDs of their own. They were not only both highly accomplished, but come to find out, one of them had taken a turn from her life of research to open a co-working space for independents and artists. The space even included an adjoining art shop!

Art Shop in Lisbon
The Oficina Impossivel Shop

At that first meeting I marveled at their lives, but also at how they seemed to move through them with so much more ease than I ever had. That’s not to say I believe their lives and accomplishments were easy, but more that they moved through them with ease.

Over my days there I watched these three women move in and out of each other’s worlds. They stayed up late (by my definition) to have a connective, un-rushed dinner. Why weren’t they worried about getting enough sleep?

They maintained high functioning lives while sleeping in to get proper rest. Why weren’t they concerned about finishing all their tasks each day?

They even showed love and hospitality to a strange woman (NOTE: I’m referring to myself here). Shouldn’t they instead focus on conserving their own energies?

How did they do all of this without anxiety, guilt, and fear to drive their ambitions?

How could I be like them?

At that last coffee, I noticed a similar shift in myself. I recognized how I rushed around much less than when I had arrived 4 weeks prior. I reflected on this further after we said our “goodbyes for now”.

When I left our coffee date, instead of taking the quickest path back to the apartment I was now staying in, I wandered to a favorite book store to buy a book of poetry. I then decided to stroll back to the apartment without haste.

When I got back to the apartment I chuckled wondering: Who WAS this wild woman of leisure?

Statue in a park
Maybe taking in amazing art like this helped.
Gulbenkian Garden
Surely this type of view during lunch can’t hurt.
Magical looking tree
I bet you seeing magical trees like this shifted the old perspective.

So what happened to cause this shift? Know that it wasn’t as if my daily responsibilities had lessened. I still had the same amount of stuff “to do”, so why was I able to stroll without stressing about my task list?

The answer I’ve come up with is that I was able to learn from the culture around me, and to reorient my priorities. I then aligned my actions with these newly realized priorities.

Said more simply, while in Portugal I was better able to define for myself what in life really matters, and then made my daily tasks and actions line up with these priorities.

For example, having that coffee with my new friends mattered more to me then reading a business book I was trying to finish the same day. Accepting and, more importantly, truly believing in this new point of view allowed me to let my anxiety melt away so I could be present with my higher priority, my friends.

Going along with this theory, I also believe that filling my cup up with books of poetry was more important to me than completing the task of reading said business book. Thus, I could now opt for the former without regret.

Lastly, I believe I would not have adopted this practice had I not been outside the comfort zone of my home country.

By taking myself OUT of an environment which supports my old worry filled behaviors, I was able to see more clearly what actually contributes to a more fulfilling life. This instead of only seeing, and trying to mimic, how others live their lives, and hoping that meant getting it right for myself.

Ahhhhh…. the beauty of a life well-traveled.

I now feel better equipped to assess actions which fill me up versus those I do to distract myself with worry, and I have to say, this seemingly small shift in perspective has made a world of difference.

I look to continue these practices of asking myself what really matters, and aligning what I do to match those priorities. Plus, I look forward to seeing where it takes me!

Finally, I don’t believe you have to have a well-traveled life to reap these benefits.

In fact, I’m curious. Have you done something like this in your own life: travel or not? How have you gone about making yourself uncomfortable and learning to be better from it?

Let me know in the comments below!

Notes From the Lisbon Airport

Here I sit at a coffee shop in the Lisbon airport (NOTE: the airport code for Lisbon is LIS… just sayin), getting ready to fly back to the States after 6 weeks here in Europe.

Wow… I just spent 6 weeks in Europe!

In significant moments like these I want to be in a different mental and emotional space than I currently am.

I want to be in a reflective state, one where I’m deeply considering the immense amount of inspiration I’ve gathered over my time here.

I want to write clearly and concisely about all the new perspectives I’ve gained, and about how much “better” I am due to them.

I want to share romanticized scenes of European travel, and tell you how one can’t know the extent of how amazing it is unless they travel here themselves.

Sunset from a sailboat
The sun sets over the Tagus River… pretty romanticized if I do say so myself.

I can’t do any of this though, because it’s not what’s really going on inside of me.

Trust I DO have reflections, inspiration, new perspectives, and memories of the beauty that’s surrounded me. Trust too that I may even be able to share more about these moments with you in the coming months.

Ceiling detail at Chiado palace
Just some of the beauty of Lisbon.

However, what’s really going on with me right now is that I’m tired… bone tired.

I’m the kind of tired where your entire being is running solely on adrenaline; where all you can think about is how delicious it will be to lay your head on a comfy pillow, but also where you cringe at your inability to even consider how you’ll muster up the energy to make it to that next pillow.

Yeah… that tired.

I’m not just tired from traveling to 4 countries, staying in 8 different cities, and taking 5 flights all in 6 weeks (while working full time).

I’m tired because despite doing all this physical movement I’ve been going inward as well.

Allow me to explain.

I didn’t realize how much WORK working on oneself is. I thought I could just follow the steps, take risks, complete the tasks, and “whammo!” self work achieved.

What I’ve learned is that self work IS partly those things. But, in addition to all the external shifting, there is a whole world of internal shifting that is happening simultaneously below my surface.

Said more simply, self work doesn’t just take place in the active moments, but it is also happening internally as well.

For example, when doing self work I could be focusing on being present and experiencing a lovely moment in a new book shop when out of nowhere I notice anger slide over the happiness in my heart.

In this example, the emotion comes on randomly, perhaps triggered by a word or picture I glanced at. If I’m engaging in self work, it’s up to me to notice these emotional shifts, accept or resist them, then move on to the next awareness.

Now, consider this. All I described just now is only happening in just one moment, and it’s exhausting enough to imagine.

When I’m in self work mode, however, I don’t just have this one moment. I have to go through this process moment after moment after moment; as each random emotional shift occurs.

Couple that with the physical tasks of walking through the shop, being present, and enjoying my time and you’re looking at a lot of activity going on as I walk through a book shop!

Livraria almedina store front.
One of my favorite bookshops in Lisbon.

Nonetheless, I’ve chosen to do this self work, and I think it’s this choice coupled with the external travel and events which leaves me… well let’s just say I’m exhausted.

St. Antonio festival street of people
Surely I’m not tired from having this outside of my window for 4 nights straight.

Giving myself permission to recognize how tired I am, I’m taking time over the next few days and weeks to just be.

I plan to focus on resting, celebrating with friends, and reconnecting with my heart. I’m taking this shavasana to rest and allow all that I’ve learned to integrate into my being.

Time out market in Lisbon
I’m taking a time out!

So, here’s to a few days of enjoying life for what it is and not trying to make it what I think it should be.

Wish me luck!

Oh, and tell me what you think about my analysis here in the comments, please! I want to know how you do self work and integrate what you learn?!

Cheers!

A Year Later – Reflections From My First Year on the Road

This post will not be perfect. I want it to be. As the official post noting my “year living on the road” it damn well should be. But alas, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a year living without a permanent address, it’s that nothing, and I mean nothing, is perfect.

Take the view above which I’m seated in front of while I write. It looks pretty damn perfect. When I pictured myself living and writing in Europe, this is the scene I imagined; clear skies, water views, quaint buildings… it has it all!

However, what it doesn’t show is the reality of the working class citizens who live here. Nor does it highlight any of the injustices that the disenfranchised face, nor the cracked paint I’ve hidden from view. Seeing these not-so-perfect seeming aspects of any scene would mean setting aside the desired perfection of what’s in front of us, to allow the truth to be revealed.

I suppose I’m rambling on about this because this process of setting aside my desire for perfection to allow truth to be shown is what has been my main lesson from this past year.

How have I learned this lesson? On June 2, 2018 my friend and I drove out of White Salmon, WA into the unknown. Since then I’ve seen a whole lot. To give you a better idea of what I’ve been up to, I’ve:

  • Stayed in 5 countries, 11 states, and well over 30 cities.
  • Road tripped the west coast of the U.S., the east coast of the U.S., and drove a wandering route from Albuquerque, NM to Oakland, CA.
  • House sat at 8 different homes for 15 different pets.
  • Met countless new friends.
  • Written 54 blog posts on The Lis Experiment Blog
  • Started The Lis Experiment YouTube channel and posted 19 videos so far. (NOTE: Please Subscribe!)

Yeah… I’m tired.

During this time I’ve seen tremendous beauty, experienced boundless inspiration, and created relationships I hope to grow throughout the rest of my life time.

River in rocks
Along a hike in Switzerland.

I’ve also witnessed unfathomable poverty, sat uncomfortably with the evidence of my country’s painful past, and sank into the despair of great loss.

museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum

When someone goes on a journey like the one I’m lucky enough to be on, we picture it as perfect. We see them as living in exotic locations while meeting the most amazing people and only having to work a few hours a day.

We picture the perfection we desire to see.

What we don’t see are lonely moments without distraction from our demons, the frustrating times of not being able to order a coffee due to language barriers, the freak outs of trying to rationalize why the hell you’re sleeping on friends’ couches as a 37-year-old professional.

We push these truths aside.

A year ago, when I wrote the first post on this blog, Being Me Anywhere, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was certain I’d grow and learn and come out better for my efforts. I was aware I’d have to look my imperfections in the eye and not blink for the growth to take place.

What I didn’t expect was how addicted I’d become to the feeling of joy which fills my being each time I accept these imperfections as who I am. I also didn’t foresee the internal effort needed to push through the force of shame to not only be comfortable with my short comings, but to also see them as my strengths.

This has been a key factor in my journey. I doubt myself constantly, but I know now that doubt is a gift, not a curse. It propels me forward. This seeming flaw, is actually necessary for me to continue.

A year from now, I have no idea where I’ll be or who I’ll be with.

I do know I still won’t have reached perfection, though.

The funny thing is… I no longer want to.

Letting Go: A Dream

Much like any dream, I didn’t remember it until something clicked the next day. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was that clicked, but I do remember where I was when I woke up.

It was my first morning in the Oakland hills, and I was staying in the guest room until the homeowners departed for their trip. The day before I had arrived from Arvin, CA, and I suppose even the drive and my arrival are worth noting.

I woke up on a Sunday morning in Arvin; a small farm labor community right outside of Bakersfield. I had a peaceful night sleep, but the morning was a bit frantic. After a cold shower (long story), and spending most of the morning looking for a decent cup of coffee, I hit the road.

As I drove I began wondering what my time in Oakland would be like. I’d be spending 2 days with the homeowners before they departed, and I couldn’t help but wonder about them too. We’d exchanged some great emails up to this point, so I imagined them as fun, kind, and just good.

My mind also wondered about little things. I thought about the book club I’m a part of, and reminded myself I’d need to buy the next book because I was number 295 on the waitlist for it at the library. Then a curious thought entered my mind, “I bet you they’ll have it at the cottage.” I chuckled then released the thought.

After 4 hours I made it to the beautiful Oakland Hills. I was rewarded with an amazing neighborhood I was sure I had dreamt about many times over the years, as well as a cozy looking cottage to stay in. Here I have some pictures for you:

Steps to a cottage
Backyard steps leading up to the cottage.
Wooden bench
A bench at the back of the cottage.
Back yard
A view from the cottage to the back yard.
SF Bay
A neighboring house with the Bay in the distance.
Dog sleeping on her back
Fay takes a nap in the Sun.

I walked into the house and met one of the homeowners. After saying our hellos I looked on the desk and sure enough, there was the book for the book club! I gasped, then explained my excitement.

The homeowner explained that the book was a gift given only a few days ago. She didn’t think they were taking it on the trip with them, so I was free to read it while they were away.

Thank you, Universe!

When the other homeowner arrived we quickly picked up from our email exchanges. I learned she was a poet who taught writing at the local university for many years. I marveled at both of their stories and at their life together. I felt so completely at home; meant to be there. I also felt really grateful.

Going to sleep that first night I didn’t expect such an impactful dream. Though to be truthful my dreams have been much more vivid and telling over the past months.

In the dream a dear friend from my youth and I were talking like the old days. Though, I had the sense that I was the age I am currently. At one point, he picked me up and started throwing my up in the air in a playful way. I was terrified. My heart races remembering it now.

“Put me down. I’m scared!!” I shrieked.

My friend continued to laugh as I wrapped my arms around his neck trying to regain control. “Of what??” he shouted through kind laughter.

“To let go!!” I blurted out.

He laughed again, taking all the seriousness out my distress. “Don’t be afraid of THAT!”

I closed my eyes.

I woke up and promptly forgot the dream until later that day when something triggered its memory. I let reprieve fill me.

My past was giving me permission to let it go. No, I was giving myself the permission.

Now the only question is, will I?

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.

A Spell in NYC

About a week into the New Year I made my way to New York for a spell. I’m lucky enough to have dear friends, no, to have dear family members, who live in nearby New Jersey, and whom are generous enough to provide me with a place to live. When I arrived here I didn’t have a return ticket, though I knew I wouldn’t stay for too long. I love New York, sometimes more than I give it credit for, but it is no longer home.

That said, when I arrived at LaGuardia airport I felt at home. I even feel at home, sometimes, as I walk the streets and spend time with friends. It’s quite the sensation to be visiting such a big, confusing place and yet feel I know exactly where I’m going at all times. Talk about a metaphor… but I digress.

What was I saying again? Oh that’s right. I feel at home here, and yet I know I’m not. The person I was when I lived here still exists, but being that person doesn’t make me feel at home. I’ve noticed that person at times, and I’ve accepted and sat with her. But what I’ve also noticed is a different person. She is the woman who walks through the melee with immense calm and observation. She is the person who is far more selective about the way she spends her time and with whom that time is spent.

One of my few trips into Manhattan involved a lecture I had read about online. I went alone and I met no one there. I simply sat, listened, enjoyed, then gave myself permission to leave when the Q & A went a direction I was no longer interested in.

Another trip into the city was to go to a play I’d heard about on the news. Another dear family member came into town from Connecticut, and we set out from New Jersey to take in the culture:

Theater
The Booth Theater… waiting for American Son to start.
Man and woman in theater
Clewi and I take in some NYC culture!

Instead of packing my calendar with events as I used to do when in New York, I’ve been setting more healthy boundaries. I’ve been cooking for myself and my friends, a lot, and enjoying it immensely.

Thai Noodles with Beef
My version of Beef Pad See Ew. Delicious!

I’ve also been reading and thinking a lot in an attempt to maintain balance:

Cover of the Tao Ching
More reading material.

Finally I’ve been exploring, although in smaller ways than driving cross country. For example, yesterday I wandered into a shop to view this beauty:

notebook
This notebook caught my eye.

My intentions, and the actions that are based off of them, are much more clear, at times. Still, there are times when the other woman appears and I have to sit with her again; give her the stage for awhile and see what part she plays and why.

All this to say a lot of internal work has been happening with the external here in good ole NYC. It’s been good, yet challenging. To tell friends I can’t meet up with them is a hard one for me, but then to realize our friendships have changed is even harder.

It’s kind of like my relationship with my old home which is no longer my home, but which I still love dearly. Maybe when relationships like these change all is not lost, just shifted? Maybe I can love, then leave but still love a place or a person? Maybe one can leave a home, and still see it as a home despite no longer living there?

Maybe the home, person, place will always be a part of us, or maybe, they never were in the first place? Hmmmm.