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.

Remembering Courage

I remember the first time I heard the definition of courage I’ve come to love. I may have told you this before, but humor me for a moment.

I was sitting on a comfy couch, I believe while doing a housesit in Sunny Southern California, and was watching one of my favorite shows on Netflix, The Last Kingdom. The main character, a warrior, was talking to a less experienced soldier on the eve of a major battle.

When the younger man admits to the main character that he’s afraid, the main character tells him something along the lines of, “Courage is finding the will to overcome your fear. Nothing more”. The next day in the midst of battle when the junior man cowers before an enemy, the main character yells to him: “Use your courage!” The younger man finds his courage and overcomes. The battle is won, and the series continues.

These scenes impacted me so deeply they are what I reimagine each time I hear the word courage.

I’ve written a bit about courage here before when I shared a quote from Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead. It was being reunited with this quote recently, through sitting on a comfy bed in Lisbon watching her Netflix special, which jolted me back into remembering to use my own courage.

I think it’s pretty courageous of me to be traveling around several foreign countries alone, but I don’t always remember to, as Brené mentions:

Choose courage over comfort.

Sure I remember to do so in the BIG life moments, but it’s when I don’t remember to do so in the smaller ones that I falter. By being courageous, and thus vulnerable, in only one area of my life, I create incongruity, and thus angst, in other areas.

For example, I may choose to travel alone around Europe, but also choose NOT to be brave enough to try to order my morning coffee in the local language. I’ll tell myself how brave I am overall in order to quell my shame, then I’ll make the excuse that “everyone speaks English anyway” so there’s no need for me to order in the local language.

In reality, I’m simply too scared in this smaller seeming moment that I’ll screw it up and be laughed at OR worse, that I won’t screw it up and receive a reply I don’t understand and thus will have to admit to my lack of knowledge. This imbalance of choosing courage on one end of the spectrum but not the other is what I believe causes much of my anxiety.

Thus, choosing courage over comfort in all of my life moments has been a mantra of mine since being reunited with these ideas.
When I spent last Saturday exploring Lisbon both alone, then meeting up with friends to explore with them, the exercise of choosing courage over comfort came to life.

I spent the morning hours muddling my way through ordering coffee and treats in my terrible Portuguese, but then succeeded beyond measure.

Coffee and pastry
A delicious espresso and a pastel de nata as my reward. mmmmmm.

I spent the afternoon hours first venturing into the cramped tourist land of Central Lisbon to see the famous St. Jorge castle. The castle was nice and all, but wasn’t really what I expected. It had amazing views of the city, and tall brick structures, but it wasn’t the grand event I’d hoped for.

I normally would have stayed longer at the castle because I should AND to “get my money’s worth”, but I instead left early to sit in quaint a cafe on a tight Lisbon street and enjoy some pizza and beer (or cider, rather).

Lis in front of the view of Lisbon
Me and a view of Lisbon.
Castle grounds
I loved the castle grounds.
Fish sculpture
A fun sculpture on the castle grounds.

It doesn’t sound courageous to leave behind history for vices, BUT I assure you that’s the point! To let go of the “shoulds” and do what I want is not an easy thing. It involves me betting more on myself than on the opinions of others, a bet I haven’t taken much in my life. In fact, I’ve told myself I’ve insured my own safety by not betting on myself. I’m kinda done telling myself this, but back to the story.

The friends I was meeting, an English woman and man about my age who have lived in Lisbon since March, arrived at the cafe and ALSO decided on a pizza and beer before we took in any culture. They were inspired by my leisure and wanted to stay out of the now very hot Sun as long as possible.

Being honest and courageous was paying off!

We weren’t in too much of a hurry to get to The National Tile Museum of Lisbon, and since one of the friends used to come to Lisbon in his youth, he wanted to show us the Flea Market (or market of thieves) where his father took him. His desires rewarded me with a wonderful view of books everywhere!

Books on bookcase
Books everywhere! This is just one example.

After the market, the three of us walked down the steep, crowded, and winding streets to sea level, where we continued our now flat, but incredibly hot walk. Along the way I noticed when I would think to be funny or quirky in order to try to “win people over”, my comfort zone.

Instead I chose courage and self honesty. I listened more than talked. I walked in the internal discomfort of this choice, but found that it didn’t take long to find solace and ease in the practice. I watched my mind become more quiet and myself become more present. I was even able to rediscover some wonder along the way.

mural along a walk
Some Lisbon street art.

We enjoyed the tile museum immensely. It was a simple, focused place, and with the practice of choosing courage, I saw with fresher eyes. The gardens were awe inspiring, and the mix of indoor and outdoor was perfect for a hot day:

Pink flowers above a doorway
The entrance to the museum.
Garden courtyard with a large fountain.
The courtyard garden at the museum.
Tile walls of an outdoor courtyard
Tiles line the walls of the courtyard.
Tile picture of a soldier
A piece at the National Tile Museum

When we parted ways later that day, I continued to keep my practice top of mind. I realized how I often think of fear as being afraid of “real” and “big” things, but then remember how so many of my everyday existence can be motivated by it.

I know a large part of my behaviors and reactions I’ve put into place due to a fear of either experiencing disappointment from myself or others or a fear of not succeeding or a fear of personal discomfort of any kind. I see now how much energy I waste trying to avoid these fears.

As I continue this journey I look to become aware of these everyday fears and eradicate them with the simple power of choice.

Can it be as easy as choosing courage in our moments of discomfort?

Come on, I didn’t say the choice was an easy one!

Regret, Awe, and Being Myself

I write to you on my last day in Budapest where I find myself oozing conflict.

On the one hand, I’m mesmerized with my ability to BE here and live a normal existence. On the other, I’m concerned I’ve spent too much time inside; both inside buildings and inside my head.

I’m asking myself things like, Did I work too much while I was here? Should I have gotten out and DONE more? Was I a good friend to my host during my time here? What is causing this feeling of regret?.

Ah ha, that’s it! I’m regretful of my time here. Even though I saw much of the city and had a great time with my friend, I feel I failed somehow. Failed to do what? I’m not sure exactly. Here in lies the conflict, I suppose.

In truth, I saw and did a lot despite working the weekdays away and ensuring my friend’s dog had a bud to hang out with while his human was at work.

For example, I saw a good deal of Budapest’s downtown:

bridge
Looking across the Danube to Buda from Pest!
Keleti Station
Keleti Station

I enjoyed delicious treats:

coffee
A coffee and a treat
Lis and Cris with beers.
Stopping for a beer and some more treats.

I saw loads of local street art:

graffiti
Loved all the local graffiti. This is on the way to the train station in the neighborhood.

I even venture north to the town of Szentendre where we enjoyed strolling the town, taking in the sites, and wine tasting a bit:

Szentendre sign
Szentendre train station sign.
Ivy on the side of a house
Loved the ivy throughout town.
town square
The town square.
Ice cream shop
Loved the front of this ice cream shop.
Danube River
A view of the Danube.

All this, and still I’m regretful.

I think in large part this feeling comes from my not being present in my time here. I chalk this lack of presentness up to my slipping back into a role. Allow me to explain.

Being granted the gift of spending time with friends you’ve known for 30 years allows you to see who you are now versus who you were in your past lives.

I believe all of us play some sort of role starting from the time we are very young. We do this to fit in to the culture and society that surrounds us because standing out from that culture threatens our survival (or at least that’s how our brains see it).

While here with my dear friend, and while being in this uber reflective internal mode, I’ve noticed the roles I’ve played clearly. I’ve seen where I’ve bended to others’ needs my entire life, ignoring my own in order to ensure peace and connection. I’ve seen how I’ve emptied my cup in order to maintain the illusion of normalcy and conformity, and I’ve seen how doing all of this has drained me of my fervor for life.

Please note that I realize this is no one else’s doing except my own. All of us who play these roles choose them, whether we realize it or not. Now that I’m out of the solitude of the road, and am interacting with others again on a consistent basis, I see how much I neglect the person I am when I’m around others. I see I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I see how many of us are doing this time and again.

To bring it back to my current regret: perhaps as I slipped in and out of this role play while here in Hungary, I didn’t allow myself to fully BE myself. And, perhaps this is the regret that I feel today.

Have no fear, there has been much positivity and action inspired by this feeling. I’ve started considering what I need from my adventures to fill my “empty for far too long” cup. As I have these considerations, I reach out to others I want to meet up with on future adventures and do the research I need to empower the journey ahead. I’m starting to figure out how to fill my cup and be myself, and that’s pretty awesome.

By doing all of this I hypothesize that I can better hook into, and be present with, the adventures ahead of me. I think that by considering what people, activities, and places fill my cup and make me ME, then by putting those things on my plate, I can be much more present with myself and others. Further I can fill my cup thereby reigniting my fervor for life!

Yes, I believe it is through this practice that congruency occurs, and instead of using my energy by wondering if I’m doing each moment and place “right”, I’m using it to BE in the moment and place fully.

For now, this is just a hypothesis; albeit a highly informed one. I plan on testing it out by continuing this practice of considering what I need to fill my cup and be myself then taking action to put the things I come up with into place in the coming weeks.

Let’s see how I do going forward. Maybe the next time I write to you from my last day in a place I’ll have less regret and more awe in my heart.

Honestly, considering this in more depth today, I already do.

What Even Is?

As I sit here in the coffee shop, I loathe the man across the room. There he is on his phone talking about “landing a deal”, being all self-absorbed and New York, unaware that his deal doesn’t even matter to the grander scheme of things. He doesn’t even know that the deal is probably what is tearing him away from what life really is! I despise his ignorance… I envy it.

I remember those moments of being lost in my own distractions. I have no doubt they’ll return, though I’m unsure I want them to. Instead, I want the loss of Kofi to have impact and significance, but I know I’m a human being addicted to shielding myself from the suffering that surrounds my existence. I know too the allure of distracting myself with schedules and tasks is one I have yet to conquer.

In the wake of this loss, and after spending over an hour trying to get these words on paper, the sentiments come back to me. What is this battle I fight with myself? How pointless it is to be lost in my head instead of being present in what actually is?

Then again, what even IS?

I thought I knew, or at least I thought I was on the path. But, when faced with such stark reality, we’re also faced with the knowledge we’ve been distracting ourselves from for so long.

That knowledge being the answer to the question which we refuse to acknowledge; for doing so means everything we’ve done in life to “get there” really is just a mechanism for protecting us from anticipated pain, discomfort, and fear.

That answer?

What really is is nothing, everything, and our complete lack of control of either.

What the hell am I talking about?

I’m saying the linear life that we plan and perfect isn’t REAL. It only exists in our heads. What IS is not the plan nor the perfection of living that plan. What IS is what’s happening to you right now. And now. And now.

What happened to you two seconds ago is gone, and what will happen two seconds from now is out of your control. Oh, you think it’s in your control. You think you can plan the next two seconds, then the next, and the next. You think that by doing so you can avoid the pain of the unplanned and the unwanted… but I assure you, you cannot.

You see, just because one of our plans works out, doesn’t mean we are in control of that outcome. Just because many of our schedules and jobs and relationships and plans work out; we are not in control.

Because, at any moment it could all change.

We see examples of this all the time. Some of those examples are tragic, but some of them are quite amazing. Yes, a death can come at anytime, but so too can a new life!

Further, not knowing and not being in control is all OK. In fact, it’s more than OK… it’s actually the only thing that IS.

Not being in control is the reality of living.

Ok so in plain talk, what do I think IS?

I think:

What is is the feeling you get from looking at a beautiful plant.

Plant in a winery tasting room
One of the plants at Core Winery in Lyle, WA

What is is admiring a cute pet.

Taiwanese Mountain Dog sleeping
Fay takes a snooze.

What is is the joy of seeing family come together.

baby shower
My ill attempt at capturing my sister-in-laws baby shower.
family
Rey, Clewi, and Zwayne get together.

What is is the awe of seeing the wonder of human hands.

Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge from a far.

What is is the grief of standing in front of your friend at rest and saying goodbye.

What is is the pain of holding a grieving friend.

What is is the heartache of having to take the next step forward from your grief into the unknown.

All of these things are, and then they aren’t; and none of them are within our control.

I have spent my entire life believing myself in control. I have been trying to run from the suffering of life through distracting myself with accomplishments and schedules, but, in that running, I have missed the joy that comes along with the suffering.

Seeing a life well lived end too soon, I recognize my time is running out for taking in the joy. That is what really scares me.

I also recognize that to let that joy in, to feel the depths of life, I have to let in the pain too.

To let that pain in, I need give up the idea that I’m in control and let life happen; the good and the bad.

Only then will I be free. Only then, will I be living.

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 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?

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?