Self Work: A Story

When anyone claims to be on a journey towards finding and knowing self, we think they must be making huge life changes like meditating 2 hours a day, eating only raw foods, or removing all excess from their life and living in solitude. But, I assure you that my path towards knowing myself better, and becoming a better me, is really about making simple, everyday life choices consciously and, when appropriate, differently.

An example occurred about a week ago when I was making my way from meeting my new nephew in Upstate New York to Hoboken, NJ (which for those not familiar with the area is about 2 – 3 hours away).

Taking this route was quite normal for me as I used to live in NYC and often went upstate to visit my family. Thus, when I embarked on the usual train ride from Middletown, NY to Hoboken, NJ, I didn’t expect any life lessons. I was simply looking forward to shutting my eyes for a few hours and resting.

That wasn’t the case.

On the day in question there was work being done on the train tracks, and so we needed to take a free shuttle bus to a more busy train station to avoid said work. This wasn’t abnormal either. In fact, I’d done it several times before without event.

Unfortunately on this day, our shuttle was late and we missed the next train putting us passengers an hour behind schedule. When I boarded the next shuttle, and realized we’d miss yet another train putting us now two hours behind schedule, I started to consider taking a cab the hour drive from somewhere in Northern New Jersey to Hoboken.

When this idea came to mind, I felt my heart start to race at the panic of being two hours late. I consciously chose to calm my thoughts. I then reminded myself it was Saturday, I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to save money. So, I came to the conclusion that getting a cab was unnecessary. I was disappointed in this realization, because I was SO TIRED and just wanted to get back to Hoboken to rest.

In this simple moment, I surrendered to the universe and accepted my fate of having to get home late putting the cab idea out of mind. Then, I disembarked the second shuttle bus to wait the hour for the next train.

As I was on the elevator to the train track with the other late passengers, a man about my age said, “Does anyone have the Uber app on their phone? I’ll pay for our ride to Hoboken. I can’t be late for work or I’ll lose my job.”

This was an ordinary moment, you see? It was a moment when most people would choose to ignore this stranger. I mean, who gets into an hour long cab ride with some strange man? Many of us would instead continue along the certain and safe path of catching the next train.

The old me would have made this choice, anyway. But the new me? The new me was conscious, and I saw the opportunity to get back faster while both saving money AND helping a fellow person out. So, I consciously chose differently.

“I have the Lyft app on my phone. We can split the cost of the ride,” I said.

“No. I’ll pay for it. Trust me you’re doing me a huge favor,” he replied.

With the free ride confirmed, I saw the universe supporting my decision. The man seemed normal enough, AND he was echoing thoughts I myself had had only a few minutes ago.

I took a chance.

Several minutes later our Lyft driver, Jean, whisked us away toward Hoboken. During the hour long ride, I watched as we became a unit. Jean laughed at the fact that Sean (the man from the elevator) and I were complete strangers taking a cab through New Jersey, and he told us about his band, his wife, and his work.

Sean, a bartender in the West Village neighborhood of NYC told us how he once talked to Lady Gaga who is best friends with a co-worker, and then described his history in bartending.

Jean was conscious about getting Sean to his train and to work on time. All of us were curious about each other. We were in it together.

We were human together.

You’ve heard me wonder here before about the point of these very short term, but intense, connections I make.

In this case, in the moment when the three of us were saying goodbye (PS Sean made his train on time!) I, again, lamented having this deeply connective moment which felt like it should last forever, end right in front of my eyes.

These moments make me emotional every time. I start to believe that surely these beings were meant to stay in my life to keep me human and connected. Then they are gone! It’s very hard on me.

This time, however, as I felt the impending loss, I also remembered that our human connection never fades, as long as we keep it alive within us. It can and should remain with us, even when the individuals who help reunite us with the connection are no longer near. This IS the point of these moments; to remember and internalize that connection to others and ourselves.

If I had decided to stay on the safe route of the train, I’d never have felt the warmth and laughter of other people experiencing life. I’d also never have those feelings to look back on when considering my own life.

In one moment I made a conscious, but different, choice which gave me a huge payoff that would extend beyond just the moment.

Now, as I reflect on this story while basking in the beauty of The Columbia River Gorge (where I’m housesitting for a dear friend) I again see that how we choose in the simple life moments, determines how we’ll make the bigger life choices.

Further, if in these simpler moments, we choose to be conscious and choose more for ourselves instead of for what we want others to think of us, we can then make the bigger life choices more confidently and more purposeful. I see it all as a practice to get us to a place where we’re confident and loving of who we are.

In the end, isn’t that what doing “self work” is all about?

Backwoods brewery flight
Cheers to that!

Skimming Across the Lake of the World

I talk about reflection… a lot.

I’ve found that traveling around, much of the time alone, sparks these deeply reflective vibes I have. Since I’m in this mode so often nowadays, you can see why I was excited to receive the below note from a dear friend:

“Travel is so life-affirming and transformative, especially when traveling alone for some reason, I find. Something about you skimming like a stone across the lake of the world – not quite in and of the places you’re visiting… I don’t know. it becomes an excellent mirror for self-reflection, that lake.“

My excitement had many different catalysts. However, the parts I want to dissect today are those of skimming across the lake and the lake itself.

What AM I doing?

Lis sitting drinking an espresso
Surely a question this profound means coffee.

Traveling around the world… for what? Self-reflection? Can’t I just do that in one place? Why does one need to be alone for it?

To the main question: what am I doing? I didn’t fully know when I started this post, but by the end we get there. Read on.

I do know that I am on this journey for self-reflection, and that I’m unable to have the same magnitude of self-reflection when in one place, constantly surrounded by others.

By traveling the “lake of the world” I experience so much more than I would standing still in my comfort zone.

Couple this with “skimming across” said lake, and I find as I skip about, never quite in or of, I take on the role of the observer.

In this role, I can see and appreciate without preamble or bias many seemingly everyday occurrences.

Statue in the park
A statue in front of the park. Notice the Saturday market in the background.
Tiles on the train station
Tiles adorn a building near a rural train station.
Across the water from Porto
The view from Porto, Portugal.
River and Sun setting
Looking back at Porto at sunset.
Flowers in front of building
The front of our AirBnB rental in Porto.
Bridge over water too an island in a park
A bridge to a tree filled island in a Porto park.
Red flowers
Flowers in front of Porto
View of the Porto river from up high
A view north from the park.

I not only take in these new scenes, but I work to perceive them completely on my own terms without any direct outside influence.

Bringing the two sides of the equation together, the breadth of experiences gained as I travel and choose to take on the role of life observer, and the development of my own perspective on these experiences, is helping me to truly find and DEFINE myself.

By going outward into the world, I’m going inward into myself. The lake reflecting back, ftw!

Could one go through this process without putting themselves on my journey? Absolutely. In fact, I believe what I’m describing is a wordy description of a simple meditation practice… but I digress.

The result of the process of observing then developing perspective is a person who not only loves and honors themselves fully, but whose cup is so full they can’t help but extend love and support to the world around them.

Sign that touts "The Weight of Distraction"
What would happen if we lifted the weight of distraction?

I believe once you recognize your own grace (which I’m working on doing as I skim the lake of the world), it’s impossible not to see that you are part of a greater whole, a well-spring of grace. I also believe it’s impossible to miss the realization that if the greater whole is suffering, so too, are you, and therefore you work to help the world around you (to also help yourself).

As I was having these thoughts, the below quote found me (NOTE: for more on me and Einstein, click here).

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. One experiences oneself, one’s thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of one’s consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
~ Albert Einstein

I held my breath as I read the quote a second, then a third time. I wasn’t sure why I had this reaction at first. I just knew the words resonated with me on a deep level and I had to share them in this piece.

Now I understand why they were so meaningful. They explain better than I ever could what it is I AM doing.

I’m breaking myself out of the prison of delusion. I’m freeing myself by widening my circle of compassion. I’m learning to love and embrace myself through skimming across the lake of the world, so that I can embrace and love the whole.

To say I’m humbled by the power of these words is an understatement.

To say I’m obligated to keep going is not.

Themes Emerge: Driving from Edgewood to Oakland

Here I sit on a couch in the Oakland mountains soaking up the morning Sun, listening to the soft din of wind chimes, and adoring a cup of coffee. As I turn my attention to writing, I think back on the road trip I just took from Edgewood, NM to this mountain retreat in Oakland, CA. There were several themes from the trip I wanted to explore in today’s post… hopefully I can do them justice.

To begin allow me to show you the route I drove earlier this February. (NOTE: Who chooses February to do a roadtrip? I suppose I did.)

map with route outlined
The route I drove from New Mexico to California.

I should note the route I took was a long, lonely drive across the New Mexico mountains, into the lands of the Navajo and Hopi, then up into the canyons and mountains of Arizona and Utah. Finally, I made my way down into the desert of Las Vegas and through one last mountain pass to Arvin, CA, a farm labor community just south of Bakersfield. Once back in California, it was an easy trip up Interstate 5 and into the Oakland mountains.

That was the external view of the trip, and dare I say it was the “simple” part to describe. Here, let me share some pictures from it before we get into the deeper stuff.

a dam over a river with canyons
The view before I cross the Colorado River near Page, AZ.
coffee shop outdoors
River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah.
patio and mountains
The view from the River Rock Roasting Company.
Desert art installation
The Seven Magic Mountains art installation outside Las Vegas.
Desert mountains
Desert views as I drove West from Las Vegas.

The internal part of the trip is a bit more challenging to talk about, but since this is a No Judgement Zone, I’ll give it a go. Here are some of the themes I considered along the way:

Theme 1: Trust that the universe has your back

Shortly before the trip began, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. I began reading it a few days before I set out and found the advice provided to be necessary as I traversed the terrains.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but driving in bad weather is probably one of my biggest fears. This is especially the case when I’m driving alone. So, when the day before I left Edgewood my friend, who is a pilot and always has his eyes on the weather, showed me some radar maps indicating a storm was going to move through the exact area I’d be driving in, I began to freak out.

“Am I going to be ok?”, I asked him as I looked at the swirls of blue, yellow, and orange. “Yep you’ll be fine. Just be aware”, he assured me.

His words and insights were helpful, but they didn’t halt my fears. That night as I was reading the above book, it seemed to read my mind. The lines I read talked about noticing your fears. It suggested that when you do, instead of feeding them, give them up to the universe and thank it for the lesson that having the fear was sure to bring. I used this mantra consistently as I drove, and sure enough my anxiety calmed.

As I traveled through New Mexico then Arizona, no bad weather found me! Then I got into Utah. It started as rain, then before I knew it I was in the mountains of Zion National Park in the midst of a snow storm!

Snow on the mountain roads
The snow begins.

I held my fears close, but before I let them overcome me, I let them go telling myself, “I’m a woman from upstate New York. I’ve got this! Thanks for the lesson, Universe. I release my fears.”

Shortly thereafter, I made my way safely to the inn I’d be staying at that night:

Mountains
View from the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

This theme of trusting the universe had my back extended well beyond weather. I used the mantra to release my fears around staying alone in motels and AirBnBs, and even smaller fears and anxieties around trying new places and things.

The more I trusted, the less I worried. The less I worried, the more present I could be. The more present I was, the more beauty I saw.

Trusting in the Universe is something I plan to take with me for days to come!

Theme 2: There is so much more to this world than me and yet I’m one with it all

This is a big concept with a crappy title, BUT it rang oh so true for me throughout the trip. As much as I got stuck in my own anxieties and fears, I was able to recognize that life happens around and without me. I was also able to reflect on how even though life is happening around and without me, I can still connect with it, and others, in a very real way.

For example, when I arrived in Gallup, NM the first night, I stopped to grab an afternoon coffee to revive me. The man working at the coffee shop was so incredibly kind to me, and he treated me as if we’d known each other for years. He correctly guessed I was on a long drive, and when I left with a delicious coffee in hand he said, “Enjoy that coffee, and safe travels!” I considered how the man’s entire life took place without me, but how in that moment it was just him and I.

I rolled that juxtaposition around until I arrived at my Airbnb for the night. The host greeted me and before long we were exchanging life stories. She told me about her time teaching on the Navajo reservation, her time in The Peace Corp, and her current life in Gallup. We connected on politics, life, and work. Before the night was through we said our goodbyes as she would be at work before I woke up the following day. Again I considered how close we were in that moment and yet how we’d never meet again.

The next day I entered the Navajo Nation, and stopped in the capital of Window Rock, AZ. Here I took in the veterans’ park, and the nearby museum.

Window Rock
Window Rock
Navajo Code Talkers monument
In dedication to the Navajo Code Talkers.
Sign in dedication.
Dedicated to veterans.
museum entrance
The entrance to the museum.
museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Museum.

All the while I was here I felt isolated and yet surrounded at the same time. As I came upon memorials and exhibits detailing the Navajo people’s past, I teared up as their pain seeped into my veins. Yet, I knew known of them.

As I left the museum, the woman at the information desk who had helped me called out, “Thanks for coming today! Have safe travels and a great day!” (NOTE: Everyone along this trip wished me a great day. Not sure if that’s a West thing or not.)

I made the long trek to Page, AZ where I stayed on the “street of little motels”.

Motel sign for Lu lu's Sleep Ezze Motel
The motel I stayed at in Page, AZ

While putting my goods in the community refrigerator that night, I met a man from Minnesota. He and his wife were in the area to escape the winter. Between this conversation and the one I had with the owner the next morning, I felt I was in the company of old friends. At the very least I was in the company of like minded individuals.

After each of these conversations where I was so highly connected, I’d go back to my room where I sat… alone.

I’m unsure where this second theme takes me from here, but even thinking back on the experience helps me feel connected in some way.

Theme 3: Meditation, I need more of it

This is another big one. Driving 20 plus hours over 6 days alone gives one a lot of time to think. And, given that I’m on this current journey that stems from a need to understand myself and my world further, I had a lot to think about.

Scratch that.

I didn’t have a lot to think about because I’m on this journey. I had a lot to think about because there is so much I’ve chosen NOT to think about over the years. Instead I’ve chosen the path of distraction.

As I drove mile after mile and had interaction after interaction, I chose not to be distracted. I turned off the radio and sat with my thoughts.

I reflected on my fears. I thought about how scared to be alone I am, and about how the fear makes no sense because I’m alone a lot without peril. I thought about my family’s fears of being alone, and considered that maybe I had absorbed these over the years. I thought more on how I had defined myself by my past, my family, my community and never really defined me for myself.

One night I decided to restart my meditation practice. Though, instead of mindfulness practice, I decided to let my mind roam. I called this contemplation instead of meditation. As I was thinking on how I’d never defined myself, I asked myself the question “Who am I without my past?” over and over again.

Eventually a vision came to me. I saw before me many versions of my current self, all dressed in different outfits and all standing, but at different heights. The Russian doll metaphor came to mind.

There I was surrounded by all my selves, and I continued to ask the question:

Who am I without my past?

Finally, the shortest Lis pushed the others aside, stepped forward, and said, “I’m here! I always have been! You’ve just been ignoring me all this time.”

The vision was a powerful one and I sat with the energy awhile longer. When I came back to myself, I vowed to try to help that Lis grow, and I saw carving out this self reflection, contemplation, meditation time was the way to do so.

As I wrap up this piece up, I’ll admit I’m a bit deflated. My coffee is almost gone, the Sun has moved, and the wind has stilled. I’m left with just me, these words, and my guess at what you’ll think of them.

Once again I find myself alone and surrounded. Once again the Universe calls me to trust in it, and once again I call on myself to trust in myself.

All these insights, from one little road trip.

Let’s be honest, it was a hell of a trip… am I right?