On Loneliness and Community

I write to you today from a hotel near the Portland, OR airport. I sit here, alone; feeling my loneliness deeply. In part I believe this loneliness stems from turning in my car (Liam) yesterday, and living at a random hotel for two days carless and companionless. I think another part of me has always been lonely, since the early days of my youth. Finally, I think this loneliness is a result of a lifetime of living in my head and not in my heart.

I didn’t intend to write about my loneliness today. In fact, I haven’t even processed and internalized in consciously yet. But then, before I began writing, I read this piece; one I had noted for a future post.

The notes I made were about community and how I think that’s what I’ve been missing in my life. I’ve mentioned this topic a few times in different ways. For example, when I was writing about my times in Oakland and Tucson, I mentioned my awe at neighbors interacting with each other. After reading the above article, I began realizing community was what I was witnessing at play (and craving) during these adventures.

When I was observing said community, I resonated with my loneliness. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see I was reminded how I “spent my days focused on optimizing myself: Endlessly working and improving, on a permanent quest to do as much as possible in the unforgiving confines of 24 hours.”, and how much I was losing myself in this quest.

In these moments I was also coming to understand how “community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none,” and now see how my behaviors and choices began to shift.

For example, the other day, after a wonderful afternoon wine tasting with a friend, I had a few hours before a dinner in town. On the advice from said friend, I decided to stay in town, grabbing a coffee and walking by the river, as opposed to driving the 20 minutes back to the house to “get something done”. I was rewarded with some awesome inspiration:

Columbia River Beach
Not a bad place so sit, enjoy coffee, and reflect on life, huh?
Columbia river gorge
A view of White Salmon from afar.

Another example is when I was walking the dog I was sitting in Bend, OR. Her longer walks were in the mornings before work; walks which I found myself wanting to rush through to get back home to start my day. I often noticed myself rushing, and then paused to slow down. One day during this practice I was rewarded with yet another beautiful scene:

Fallen Tree in a river
I still can’t tell if the branches in the water are the tree’s reflection or actual branches… the river is so clear!

A final example is when I spent another day wine tasting (Hey, I like wine. Who’s judging?) with a second dear friend (and host who I was staying with back in The Gorge). Much of the day I focused on being present, being vulnerable and open, and just laughing a lot. Here take a look for yourself:

Lis headshot
Happy to be with a friend at my favorite Gorge winery. PS how great is the sky?

It doesn’t take much to see how closely community and loneliness are tied together, and it’s no wonder then that this quote from the author stands out for me.

“What does help lonely people is to educate them about how our brains can turn in on ourselves, causing us to retreat into self-preservation mode and be on high alert for social threats. This naturally makes people engage less and feel even more lonely, creating a vicious cycle.”

I feel this last quote in my bones. I identify with it, and I am ready to admit it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (if you know me). “Lis, you are surrounded by great people who love and care about you all the time. How can you be lonely?”

Maybe it’s because by living in my head instead of my heart, my “brain turns in on itself” and I “retreat into self-preservation mode”. Meaning, I hold back so much of myself that I don’t actually feel connected to others.

Of course, I talk with others and provide all the care I can muster to those I love. But, there are more times than not where I choose not to share what’s truly on my heart for fear of exposing myself as different, weird, not acceptable, not lovable… the list goes on.

I think there are many of us out there who do this. In fact, I think most of us in my culture do this. That’s why I think we see so much loneliness out there in the world.

Being honest, I’m tired of this loneliness eating away at me. I also know I’m being called to the solution each and every day of my journey, and that said solution is always accessible.

Each time I talk with a stranger, make a new friend, or speak with an old friend the answer to my loneliness appears. It says:

Reach out. Be Your True Self. Connect with Your Community.

Tomorrow I head back East where I’ll strengthen my resolve to do just that.

What We Leave Behind… Or Don’t

I delayed writing this post today. I sat down to write about 40 minutes ago, but distracted myself until now. When I returned to my draft document and the topic for today which I had written there, I found myself unsurprised at my procrastination.

The topic, “post about the last day in Oakland”, reminds me of the delightful time I had while hanging out with Fay in the mountains.

Fay
Fay sits by the fire!

Writing this post makes my leaving even more real, I suppose.

I have tons of fond memories of my time in Oakland. The homeowners are my new found soulmates/friends. The neighborhood was lovely, and the neighbors were kind. I was taken aback by being in a neighborhood where the neighbors knew each other, actually. I realized after 10 years in New York, a few short stints in Washington and Maui, and life on the road, I hadn’t experienced neighbors who were up to date on each other’s lives in awhile. It was nice.

Stairs up to house
One of the houses in the neighborhood.

On Fay and my last walk through the neighborhood, I was deep in reflection mode. As I walked past the houses and through the trees, I felt this sense of homesickness. I was unsure if this feeling was because the area was like where I grew up (NOTE: It is in some ways similar, especially the nature and wildlife. In other ways it is very different, like the types of people and their professions.), or if it was my anticipating leaving such a safe and secure place.

I let this feeling settle over me, and as I continued to look around I realized I was SEEING everything differently. I started to have this sort of perspective when it came to the details. Here let me show you the pictures I was compelled to take:

Purple Flowers

Mailbox

Flowers in the trees

Purple flowers

Green plants

It was as if the rainy day was bringing out colors I hadn’t seen in a long time. Maybe something in me was waking up. Maybe my homesickness was also fear of leaving a place where I felt I’d had time to develop said perspective. Maybe I’m scared to lose it.

What perspective did I develop while in Oakland? I’ve said it a time or two in my videos… I need to go hard at finding myself. With this perspective, and the work I started while on this sit, I’ve already felt an easing of the pressure I’ve put on my life. This easing is my ultimate goal.

During my time in Oakland, I even put together a mighty mission statement to focus me further! Check it out:

I am a striver challenging myself by participating in as many life experiences as I can to develop my life strategy so I can communicate my findings. My dominant personal strengths are discipline and communication, and I am to methodically uncover how I can live a present, authentic, and fun life so that I can share this knowledge with others.

A lot happened in my short 3 weeks in Oakland, and I will miss the inspiration and the surrounding energy. The good news is one of the homeowners agreed to be my writing mentor! This means not only will my writing improve, BUT I’ll also get to talk to her more often… woohoo!

My thinking is with regular updates with my mentor, and by focusing in on self, I should be able to keep the energy and perspective from my time there alive.

As I write this last part, I’m reminded of a line from the note said mentor sent to me yesterday:

“Fay misses you. We miss you. The house misses you. But I don’t feel you’re so far away.“

After writing this and reflecting further, I don’t feel so far away now either.

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 mountains, 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 mountain 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 since 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?

One Crazy Week

Last week was a hell of a week. There’s no other way to say it. It was one of those weeks filled with a lot of bad, but also a whole lot of good. It was a week which I’m grateful for, despite its challenges. In fact, I’m grateful for it because of its challenges. Finally, it was a week where I was able to clearly see why I was sent back to NYC for a spell, and this fact renewed my faith in the universe having my back.

The week started off normal enough. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon when the action began. I was working away and getting a ton of great work done when I opened up my laptop to a black screen. It was a problem I had seen many times before, and I solved it by closing said screen and opening it again. Success!

I began typing something which I’m sure was incredibly profound, and that’s when my screen decided to go black. Poof! There were no other warnings, nor were there signals of dismay. Just me and my black laptop screen.

I was unable to get the screen working again, and this led me to call tech support. Tech support quickly realized they were unable to help me, but since I was here in good ole New York I was able to get an appointment at the Apple Store an hour later.

The genius at the Genius Bar, Mike, was very helpful. His mantra was, “I want customers to pay the least amount possible.” This mantra led to us trying a whole bunch of options, and then to me leaving the computer at the 5th Avenue store for a couple days. After the 48 hours were up, I was happy to report I left the Apple Store not only with a working laptop, but with zero effect on my wallet. Thanks, Genius Mike!

The next day, Thursday, I received a call from my mother telling me her mother, my grandmother, had passed away. It was somewhat unexpected. She had fallen a week earlier and, being a woman of 92, was unable to recover from her injuries. It was sad news. The funeral services would be the next Monday, and as chance would have it, there was a train that could take me from where I was staying in New Jersey to the town where the services were being held. Score a second sorta win for the universe!

Saturday came, and as I sat with my thoughts and emotions enjoying a calmer weekend, I received a text from a dear family member who lives in Massachusetts. He, his wife and their children were going to be in New Jersey later that day. We were able to meet up and spend several loving, fun, and uplifting hours together which helped to renew my spirit. Here’s a picture of the event:

two children and a woman.
My niece Rey, my nephew Zwayne, and I enjoy family time.

The weekend past and Monday appeared. That morning I boarded the train upstate and a few hours later made my way to my parents’ car. On the ride to the funeral home I sat in our shared energy. I listened to them argue about the things people who have been married 46 years argue about, and all the while considered … well let’s just say I considered a lot.

What stands out now, is the sound of the church bells. I can still hear them, actually. I can still feel the finality of their song. On the flip side I can also still feel the love that stood side by side with the grief. Yes, for once I was able to make the room to feel them both. I can also still feel my realization of their shared space, along with my realization of the spaces I’ve refused to share. But, all of this for another piece.

After the services and a reception with the family, I boarded the train back to New Jersey. I took the next few hours to reflect on all that happened in the past 8 days. I had lows of varying degrees, but each was followed by a high (i.e. a fixed for free computer, time to grieve and love with my family) which would not have been possible without my being here in New York. I reflected on how the universe whispered to me to go to New York while I was housesitting in Charlotte, and I saw how if I hadn’t listened to it things could have been much harder.

I saw how extensive my family and support system is. From precious time with friends made family, to new insights about how my family loves, my cup was quite full.

Finally, I saw how through the light comes darkness, and how through the darkness the light becomes that much brighter.

I saw a lot. I experience a lot. It was a lot.

I mean, I DID tell you it was a hell of a week, didn’t I?

Preparing for the Storm

Two days after Christmas the storm came.

I felt a shifting stir that morning well before the brunt of the blow hit. When I awoke the internet was out. This fact threw a wrench in my yoga routine. I tried to forge ahead with streaming a yoga video, but even that was choppy. So, I accepted my fate and skipped out on my practice. I always hesitate with this for fear of my inner sloth being validated. However on this day I had little choice, a fact I noted for later.

Shortly after I put away my mat, I realized cell service also was down. At this point I felt fairly content though. The heavy snows hadn’t yet come in and the family I was staying with was still home, so I wasn’t yet faced with it all. (NOTE: The family was heading out of town that day. The plan was for me to stay on at the house to take care of the pets while they were away.)

We lamented the lack of internet and cell service, but didn’t let it stop us in our planning. They continued to pack up their car, and I made a shopping list to stock up on goods before I couldn’t leave the house for awhile (NOTE: by awhile I meant a week).

The family made their departure as I made my way into town. My first stop was Walgreens where I found they were only allowing “cash-only” purchases due to the outage. (NOTE: come to find out this outage extended throughout much of the rocky mountain and west coast regions.)

Luckily I was able to use my card to purchase my food supplies at the grocery store and fuel up my car. I didn’t know when I’d be able to leave the property again, or when I’d see other people again, so I was grateful for this ability.

When I left the house that morning the view outside my bedroom window was something like this:

Light snow on a tree.
Just a covering of snow.

I got back to the house and the view was much the same. Still without any sort of internet or phone service, I unpacked my grocery bags and decided to get cozy on the couch to watch some movies. This plan was a solid one until the electricity went out.

There I was without electricity, internet, or phone, and completely alone on 32 acres somewhere in New Mexico.

Then the snow began.

What started as a flurry turned into this:

Snow storm
The storm covers the terrain.

The tree I showed you earlier very shortly looked like this:

Snow covered tree.
Another view. This time with more snow.

I only allowed myself to panic slightly before reminding myself I was completely safe and sound and well stocked up. The electricity came back on when it was still daylight, and I had a quiet night at home.

When I woke up the next morning, I saw the total snowfall had increased significantly.

Two feet of snow covered patio furniture.
A few feet of snow grace the patio furniture.

I also realized I had to walk quite a way to feed the horses. Not only did I have to walk down to feed them, but I had to carry buckets of water along with me. Here’s a picture of the trail I managed to carve out:

Trail through two feet of snow.
My trail through the snow.

It was on these walks through the several feet of snow that the panic kicked in. What if I slip and fall and freeze to death out here and no one knows? What if a coyote comes out of the woods and attacks me? (NOTE: I have no idea if this is even something a coyote would do. I doubt it.) What if I’m unable to keep the horses fed and watered and something happens?

You get the idea. I stopped each time I noticed these thoughts. Yeah it was -2° F with the wind chill, so standing there with two heavy buckets of water wasn’t the best idea, but I stopped nonetheless. I stood there, feeling the fear, noticing it, then watching it drift away. As I continued walking I let the huffing and puffing of my breath release any other old thinking and negativity.

I continued this practice while indoors (which was significantly easier, physically, anyway). Each anxious thought. Each fear filled reaction. I sat (or stood) with them all. I did little else except stay present with them.

Each time, they disappeared.

Little did I know it was this practice which clears the mind and soul, and readies us for bigger and more intense moments. Little did I know how much I would need this practice in the weeks to come. Nor did I know how much bigger those moments would be.

What I did know is as I cleared my mind and heart, so too did the weather clear, and with it came an incredible beauty:

Snow covered high desert.
The view clears.
Snow covered high desert.
Another beautiful view of the snow.

I like to think that this last part of the story is not mere coincidence; that if I continue with this practice in my everyday life, I’ll bring more beauty in as well. Perhaps that beauty will also be bigger as the moments themselves grow.

Well… there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?

An Unintended Insight

This past Christmas was different. This wasn’t only because I spent it with new friends in a new place. In addition to the location difference, there was a deep change within myself. Being honest, I didn’t know that change was what I was going to write about in this post, but, here we are.

What I wanted to write about was the immense amount of kindness bestowed upon me by my ‘host family’ this holiday season. I was going to tell you about the simplicity, ease, and caring that filled me on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Here I was, in the home of people whom I’d not met until a month earlier, celebrating the most familial of holidays, and feeling completely accepted and at peace.

During the day, I reflected on Christmases past. Most of these I had spent with my family in New York celebrating in our traditional ways. I thought about how closed-in that world of mine was. I recognized how growing up in small place with a large, tight-knit family sheltered me considerably.

I called my parents house early that afternoon, but they were quick to shuffle me off the phone due to a neighbor who was visiting. I noticed how my heart winced at this lack of attention. I then noticed how familiar that wincing felt.

My day continued on. I called it “The Lazy Christmas” because none of us decided to get out of our pajamas much before 3pm, and, even then, it was a stretch. I also saw it was a loving Christmas as I witnessed a mother, father, and daughter who all showed each other, and me, the utmost respect. I was grateful to experience their example.

I was also quite grateful for their hospitality as evidenced here:

Christmas tree in front of a view window
Quite the Christmas view.
Sun setting above trees
I tried to capture the sky at sunset.
Lis standing by a Christmas Tree
“Check out this beautiful tree!”
Bottle of tonic water next to bottle of gin.
South African blue gin with some fancy tonic water.
Cat standing
Sparkles looks on.
Dinner table set for 4 people.
Dinner is served!
Christmas Tree standing next to a fire place.
Christmas by the fire.

After our usual enlightening and fun conversations, I made my way to bed. When alone in the room the thoughts and feelings of home again flowed over me, but this time with ever more sadness. I’d love to tell you the sadness was due to missing my family and our traditions, but it wasn’t. Instead I felt sad for not missing them much at all.

It is this feeling I continue to sit with and process despite decades of running. It is this feeling which I have been denying all this time.

Let’s see what happens as I finally face it, shall we?

A Day in Madrid, New Mexico

I first learned of the town called Madrid, New Mexico from the homeowners of the house where I’m staying. From there the name kept coming up. Combine this with having driven through on my way to Santa Fe the week before, and I knew I had to visit. The Saturday before Christmas seemed the perfect time. After-all, there were a few more presents I wanted to secure, AND I figured some holiday cheer would be in the air.

I woke up early to feed the horses, and about mid-morning I made my way to the town. It was only a 45 minute drive, and, as I mentioned in previous posts, the landscape along the way was stunning.

Madrid is a small town, so parking wasn’t an issue. I found a spot in front of one of the shops, then began my walking adventure. For my first stop I, for some reason, walked into one of the local art galleries. I wasn’t in the market for anything there, but something drew me inside. It wasn’t long before I found out what.

As I was looking around the gallery, the man behind the counter began speaking to me. It turned out he was from Albany, NY. He and his wife (and now his adult children) are artists, and they decided to move to New Mexico to explore their art some 31 years ago. We exchanged war stories of winters back East. I asked him, and he told me, about his adventures in the West. Needless to say when I left the shop I not only felt full of good vibes, but I was reminded that I’m never really alone.

My next stop was at a place I had read about online, the Gypsy Gem. I was looking for some earrings for my mom, and this seemed the place to find them. When I entered the shop I was greeted by a young man in his 20s. He let me know to ask him for help should I need any, after which I began making my way around the shop.

Several moments later I found myself engaged in another full on conversation. This time I learned the young man had just moved to Madrid last month from Miami. He was having a hard time finding a job in sales there due to the tattoos on his arms and face, but a friend to him that his parents owned a shop here and would certainly hire him. They did, and here he was.

I also learned he was getting used to the colder weather. In fact, he was very excited to have purchased his first wood stove after learning just how expensive propane heat was. This young man’s stories touched me. Not because they were particularly endearing, but because I could very much relate to them.

I remembered having a hard time grappling with heating costs at my first post college apartment in Connecticut. I also remembered moving across the country to San Antonio, Texas due to a friend’s suggestion. It was like peering through a looking glass into the past. I shared with him my current journey which we bonded over, and, although I left the shop without a gift for my mother, my step was a bit lighter the rest of the day.

My step was not too light for an afternoon coffee however, so my next stop was the Java Junction. Note that I had to walk past this before arriving:

Photo park
Who knew there was such a thing as a Photo Park? Not I!
Front of coffee shop
I finally found a coffee roaster in New Mexico!

I was delighted to find they served and sold beans which were locally roasted in Santa Fe. I had yet to try any local roasts, and thankfully I was not disappointed. I stocked up on coffee for the house, then made my way to a local chocolate shop.

This stop was like the chocolate equivalent of Cheers. A local man sat on a stool chatting. A worker made chocolate in the back. The owner gave me tastes of her amazing chocolate masterpieces while chatting about friends and family. It was a really great environment. I bought some of the wares to have around the house when the family came back for the holiday, and was on my way.

After chocolate I made my way to a final jewelry shop. Within the first few minutes I saw a pair of earrings I liked. I was going to keep looking, but realized that energy would be wasted. These were the prize of the day!

I secured the turquoise beauties then left the shop and the town. When I arrived home, I put away my wares and enjoyed the quiet afternoon. Towards the end of the day, this view greeted me on my walk down to feed the horses.

Pink rimmed sky
Loved this view North as the Sun set.

When I was done, I made the trek back to the house and reflected on the beauty of a day well spent. To have strangers share their lives and art with me is something I’m truly grateful for. Not only does it expand my understanding of others, but it helps me reflect on myself, what I’ve been through, and who I want to be.

Not too bad for a day in small town New Mexico, right?

Being Me in Albuquerque

In the post documenting my visit to Santa Fe, I mentioned I was going to work on “doing me” in future adventures. What I meant by this was I planned to follow my own interests versus engaging in activities and adventures which I felt I should based off what others suggested. I’m proud to announce that the day after my trip to Santa Fe I was able to keep this practice of “doing me” intact in a Sunday adventure to Albuquerque.

Now, I’ll admit the day’s activities were framed by a friend’s suggestions. However, these suggestions matched up with the types of adventures I wanted to have. Seeing there was a fit, I made my way into town to peruse local shops in search of meaningful holiday gifts for friends and family.

My trip started with a stop at The Octopus and The Fox. This is a small shop near downtown Albuquerque which my friend recommended. The thing about the shop which I found inviting was the fact that they sell materials from local artists and craftspeople. My trip was on a Sunday, so I was not only able to easily find parking, but I was also the first person in the shop. I looked around the small space and found several meaningful surprises for friends including this card illustrated by a local artist:

Note card with illustrated penguins.
My friend holds his holiday card which was “made in Albuquerque”.

Feeling satisfied and fulfilled, I made my way back across town for a stop at a local art supply shop. The shop hadn’t yet opened when I arrived, so I parked and decided to walk around the area. Not only I was greeted with questionable signs:

18 mph speed limit sign
Yeah this sign definitely caught my attention. Then a friend told me that was the intention!

But I also found a coffee roaster!

Coffee roaster sign.
In a shocking turn of events I stopped for some coffee.

I secured a delicious coffee, then made my way back to the shop. There, the wonderful women working helped me pick out some great gifts for the kids in the family. With this done, I got in the car and started to head back into the mountains.

At this point in my adventures, I usually find myself reflecting on how I should have “done more” with my day, but not on this day. On this day, I sat with the satisfaction and good vibes earned from a day of following my own threads instead of grasping on to those of others.

When I got back to the house, I settled in with the help of these characters:

Long haired grey cat on a dog bed.
Jabula enjoys her oversized bed.
Siamese cat with blue eyes
Sparkles hanging out in his bed.
Horse in front of the Sun
Laddie enjoys a sunny day.
Mustang behind gate
Gambler on display.

I made my meals for the week while listening to podcasts and music. When done, I sat on the couch and sighed a huge sigh of contentment.

Being yourself really IS all it’s cracked up to be, isn’t it?

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?

A Day in Santa Fe

Last weekend, I decided I was in need of an adventure. My choice of destination was none other than Santa Fe. Situated only 1.5 hours from where I’m staying, it’s far enough to get out for the day and close enough to make it home in time to feed the boys.

mustang standing by a gate
Say “hello” to Gambler
Chestnut Thoroughbred standing by gate
Say “hello” to Laddie

I was excited to see more of what I already know to be an amazingly beautiful state. Not only do I get to look at this view each day:

High desert terrain with mountains in the background
The view from the house

But I get to enjoy beautiful sights just about everywhere I go.

Road and mountains.
Along the way to Santa Fe.
High desert landscape
Another beauty along the drive.

I’ve learned in my travels that I’m unable to just show up somewhere, wander around, then enjoy myself; so Friday night before my adventure, I put together a loose outline of the day. I was vigilant about adding things that felt right and removing those that didn’t. I also stayed very aware of trying not to pack too much into the day.

The plan was to go to the old part of the city and peruse for Xmas gifts, then head to get some hot chocolate which a friend said was worthwhile. I decided on the old part of town despite a friend saying how much he hated it. I figured since it was my first time in the city I should at least check out the historical area, since that’s what people ‘should’ do. Boy was I wrong… ish.

I got to Santa Fe around 11, parked, then began my wander. I tried, really tried, to enjoy the shops and galleries that abounded. Yet, I couldn’t. All I could do was scoff at it all. It just felt so… prescribed!

I was able to wander into a shop which felt less yucky than most, but after an hour or two I was spent. I did manage to enjoy the architecture and sight of the area a bit though. Here let me share that with you:

Sante Fe shops
Shops in the old part of Santa Fe.
painting
Fun art outside a restaurant.
Painting of Snoopy
I do love this beagle!
Historical sign about billy the kid
Ok I’ll admit seeing this was pretty cool.

On my way out of the area, I wandered past a sign pointing to a second floor shop which sold “Arte, Libros, y Musica”. I was sold. Like metal to a magnet I ascended the stairs and wandered into a book filled shop straight out of the pages of a C.S. Lewis novel.

As I looked at the materials around me, I noticed something strange. Sure enough all the materials were written in either Spanish or Portuguese. My brain made this connection as a voice appeared from a room further back.

“¿Bueno?” said the voice.
“Hola,” came out of my mouth.
“Hola ¿esta bien hoy?” the voice replied.

From there I hacksawed my way through more Spanish until the man had mercy on me (probably more himself given my language abilities) and began speaking English. I went on to have quite the conversation with the shop owner who informed me I was in the second largest Latin American book store in the country!

We talked books, Mexico City, politics, you name it. I left the shop feeling connected and renewed.

And, ready for hot chocolate.

At the chocolate shop I had another in-depth conversation, and an amazing hot chocolate made from a native recipe which was 100s of years old! At this I decided it was time to head back.

On the drive I reflected on the day, and I observed myself starting to scold myself for not “enjoying the old part of the city more”. I stopped myself this time, then gave myself permission to accept myself instead.

It’s ok if I do or don’t like something that people say “should” be done. It’s also ok NOT to do these things which I know I don’t enjoy. In fact, my aim is to do less of what I don’t like and more of what I do like. If this means less touristy commercialism and more random conversations with strangers, you know I’m game.

The lesson? In future adventures I endeavor to “do me” without pause. I think this is really the only way to have less angst and frustration in adventuring times. And… less of these aspects in adventuring times, means less of them in other life moments as well.

I’m all in!