Questioning Your Thoughts to Step Into Your Power

I’ve come to realize that most of what scares me simply isn’t REAL.

Yeah, I said it.

Most of what I fear exists only inside the confines of my mind. Knowing this, I can deduce that once I question my thoughts, I can then recognize them for what they are; mere apparitions of consequences assumed but not realized. This truth exposed, I can let go the angst I put on myself and enjoy the experiences before me. This is me stepping into my power.

Despite this enlightenment, the process of investigating and letting go of fear isn’t an easy one. I should know, I face it each and every time I travel.

My most recent trip was from Oakland, California to Xalapa, Mexico. Being that it was my first solo trip to a country that is deemed unsafe by many America sources, I was quite nervous.

One reason for my apprehension was that I didn’t want to be a party to the violence that I hear so much about. The other reason was, quite frankly, I didn’t look forward to standing out and the vulnerability doing so would bring.

I feared how I’d be treated as an outsider. I feared being ostracized, denied, and rejected. I feared being talked about, made fun of, and left out.

As I observed these thoughts, I recognized how they are what many people of color and different orientations deal with each and every day in the United States. This idea both humbled and disturbed me, but that is for another post.

I hadn’t had to deal too much with these thoughts while still around my Oakland based friends, but once alone at the San Francisco airport, I had no other choice but to face them. It was the moment I had been waiting to avoid, and it was here.

On my way through the airport, I stopped to get some snacks and a bottle of sparkling water. Once at the gate, I quickly noted how I was one of the only (if not the only) gringas there. I tried to play it cool, and pretend like I felt as if I fit in (SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t).

I found a seat away from the crowd and settled in to wait for my connecting flight through Mexico City. I then took out my refreshing looking sparkling water only to see that, alas, I needed a bottle open to enjoy it.

No problem, I told myself, you always carry a bottle opener in case you have to, uh, open a sparkling water (yeah, that’s it). Only problem was when I reached into my bag to take out my keys I realized I no longer have keys of any kind on which a bottle opener keychain can rest.

Really, Universe?

I dug deeper and deeper into my bag, but it turned out that in all my minimizing I had omitted this essential component. What to do?

With my fear brain racing, I decided to try to force the bottle open, while hopefully NOT standing out as the stupid, weird, different woman at the gate. Of course, the top wouldn’t budge.

Finally I gave up, sat back, sighed with thirst, and let go.

Then a man seated a few seats over (who was both dressed exactly as I would imagine a man going to Mexico to be dressed; buttoned down shirt, fitted pants, a cowboy hat, and matching boots, and was the EXACT type of person I was scared would reject me) leaned over asked, “Do you need help?”

“Yes, please. Thank you so much,” I replied as I handed him the bottle.

I watched him, remain seated, but take off his belt to use the bucket as a bottle opener. Genius, I thought. He handed the bottle back to me and I nodded my head, humbled, the fear brain’s volume decreasing ever so slightly.

Shortly after we boarded the plane and I settled into my usual red-eye spot, the window seat. I was skeptical of the woman who sat in the aisle seat to my left, but considering we didn’t have anyone seated in the middle, I did my best to recline and try to rest.

After several hours, the lights came back on and we prepared for landing. At this point, my row mate and I started chatting. I learned she was headed to Guatemala for a family wedding, and I told her of my travels to the state of Veracruz. We became fast friends.

Take that, fear brain!

When at the Mexico City airport we traveled through immigration together, then she and I had a few hours before our respective flights. Her fluency in Spanish was an integral part of getting me the items I needed (i.e. coins, more water, etc), and despite my initial skepticism I saw that, once again, the Universe had sent me an angel. I even found myself a little sad to bid her farewell.

Sad and afraid because this final leg of my journey meant me landing in Veracruz alone and then having to secure an hour and a half bus ride to Xalapa. What would happen to me in the Veracruz airport without her Spanish?

Nothing. It turns out.

I landed in Veracruz, gathered my bags, and when I headed through the exit I immediately saw the desk for the bus company. My beginner level Spanish was enough to secure a ticket, and in no time I was on the bus to Xalapa.

Bus interior
The bus ride was really nice!

The fear brain was almost silent at this point.

On the bus, I sat back and thought about my anxieties. I saw how, up this in my trip, they were lies I told myself. Turns out, nothing I was afraid of actually happened. Of course, the potential of bad things happening is always there, but their probability was far less than the amount of attention and energy I gave them.

I made my way, via taxi, safely to my AirBnB, and the fear brain retreated completely. While there I marveled at how beautiful and simple my room for the month was.

Xalapa AirBnB Private Room
My living quarters for the next month.
Flowers in Xalapa city center
Xalapa is know as “The City of Flowers”
View of Xalapa from the roof.
The view from the roof.

Looking out at the rooftop view, I questioned how else my thoughts lie to me. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but it wouldn’t be long before I would find one.

The next day my hosts invited me to travel with them to a village about an hour and a half away in the mountains. The village is one they visit every so often to donate clothes, shoes, and toys to the local people. I jumped at the opportunity to see more of the area, its people, and its culture.

To say I was humbled as we drove into the rural areas and around the village, would be an understatement. The homes were simple; containing 2 – 3 rooms max with outhouses in the back. There were no washing machines. Instead there was a community hand-washing laundry area in the center of town. Finally, it being a farming village, there were animals and crops everywhere.

Village with a teal church
Looking up from the road to the church.
Two cows in a field
This felt a lot like home.

If I ever feared being seen as an outsider, this was the place said fear would be actualized. As you may have guessed by now though, my concerns were unrealized.

Instead, the people welcomed me the same as my hosts; with kindness. Sure many of the villagers were staring at us, but none out of malice. We were simply a curiosity (NOTE: To paint the scene picture me, one Dutch host who has lived in Mexico 30+ years, and one Mexican host who grew up in Mexico City).

The village sits at 9,000 feet so offers beautiful nature and vistas. Luckily, we were invited to walk the roads and explore.

Country road surrounded by trees.
A walk down the road.

About 20 minutes into our pastoral walk, we came upon a farm.

Country farm
The farm we came upon.

Although we were strangers, a farmer came over to greet us. (NOTE: Something I’ve learned about Mexico is everyone greets everyone. “Buenos Dias.” “Buenas Tardes.” Stranger? No matter. You greet!).

My hosts explained to the farmer where we were headed (to the huge antennas to take in the view), and he proposed a shortcut. His suggestion, which we were grateful for, saved us a good amount of walking and provided even more dramatic views.

A view of the village
The village from the hill.
A close up of white wildflowers
Some flowers along the way.

As the walk extended, the inevitable silence descended. I went back to my thoughts. For decades they had told me what a happy life should be. They showed me what type of people, places, and possessions a successful life needed to include. Yet, right before my eyes I was witnessing something very different.

These villagers lived a simple life. They were poor, yes, and they saw hardships. Yet, I never saw one of them visible unhappy. (NOTE: of course I realize they WERE unhappy at least sometimes, but the point is it wasn’t their default state). Instead they went about their lives with a smile. They greeted strangers, invited them into their homes, and gave them shortcut advice. Despite what we in the States would deem as “hard times”, life went on quite well.

I then thought about my trip up to this point. I had been so scared of everyone around me, and yet these were the exact people who proved helpful and kind.

That’s when I was reminded of a very important premise regarding my thoughts:

Just because I think something doesn’t make it true.

I took this with me from the mountain. After I arrived back to the AirBnB and over the next week, I considered how throughout my life I’ve let the narrative in my head hold me back from many experiences. I recognized how I let my thoughts scare me out of living.

I also now knew that my mind’s narrative not only caused me suffering, but was completely “unreal and unnecessary”. I didn’t NEED this line of thinking to protect me. In fact, I could lighten my load significantly, by removing its burden.

It’s a simple concept. Believe my thoughts and suffer, or question them and prosper.

So, I asked myself, Does this mean I can’t trust ANY of my thoughts, or are there certain thoughts I can and SHOULD trust?

I decided what made the most since was to not trust any of my thoughts as law, at least initially.

(NOTE: I should say that I believe thoughts are different than gut instincts, though both at some level warrant investigation. Thoughts, in this case, feel differently to me than gut instinct. The former cause my shoulders to shrug up to my ears and my heart to race. The latter are a solid feeling in the core of my stomach which actually cause me to relax.)

I then asked myself, If I can’t trust my thoughts initially, what am I supposed to do with them?

Investigate them.

There are several great resources that provide step by step accounts of this investigation process, but the short spiel for me is: notice my thoughts, then ask myself: Do I know if this is true?

If I don’t (SPOILER ALERT: I usually don’t.) I go and either look up information, ask people, or engage in some other method of fact finding. I then do the most important step; modify my original thoughts based on my findings.

This means I open my mind to external insights and possibilities, and then I allow the insights and possibilities to open my mind. It’s an ongoing cycle in which I am updating and informing my internal belief system.

In the end I become empowered. I choose what to believe, and ultimately what to experience, based off of my own insights, not those put upon me.

Once I go through this process, I see a beautiful new world before.

By distrusting and investigating my thoughts, I open myself up to new knowledge.

By opening myself up to new knowledge, I introduce myself to new experiences which I was previously too afraid to have.

By exposing myself to these experiences, I compare them against my internal narrative and decipher my truth.

By allowing my truth to be informed and adjusted, I alleviate much of the suffering I put on myself via unnecessary thinking and fear.

I also grow, find greater happiness, and become better for both myself and others.

It all starts and ends with me.

Now that’s power.


Ready for the Dark

“The real issue arises if we get the Diablo Winds.”

My friend (and one of the homeowners I sit for in Oakland) was informing me about the catalyst for the planned power outages in the region. Being that we were up in the hills, we were likely to lose power in the next 24 hours. We had no idea when in those 24 hours the outages would happen, nor for how long they would last.

Since the outcome hinged on the manifestation of said winds, I figured I should inquire further. “What are these Diablo Winds you speak of?”

“The Diablo Winds are the weird kind. They are like the Mistral in Provence and the Scirocco in North Africa. Have you heard of those?”

I shook my head “No”.

“They are winds that, for some reason, make people a bit crazy.”

It sounded somewhat disturbing to me, and sure enough, less than 24 hours later when I woke up and saw that we were without power, I could feel the heightened energy of the dawning day.

Formosan Mountain Dog lying on a bed.
Fay’s face in this picture reminds me of the vibe of the day.

The day was one I’ve come to call a “move day”. My bags were packed, and later that afternoon I would head down the hill to my next sit. (NOTE: because of the proximity of my next location, the other homeowner and I decided it could only be qualified as a “half move day”, but I digress.)

Move days always makes me feel outside of myself. It’s as if I’m simultaneously no longer rooted in where I’ve been and not settled into where I’m going. Instead, I’m stuck in this in-between land of undefinition, feeling as if I belong everywhere and nowhere. These feelings encourage me to doubt if I’ll ever find the right fit.

In short, they’re not the easy days.

The winds started late morning just before I headed out. Was it their arrival that stoked my fears? Maybe. But, considering I was moving into a new house with a new pet and no electricity, I think they only added force to my anxiety.

Australian shepherd on a kitchen rug.
Kylie welcomes me home despite my angst.

After getting to the house, I was somewhat comforted to see the homeowners had more than prepared me for the potential of several days without power. There were flashlights in every room, a bathtub full of water, and water bottles galore for drinking.

With this half an ounce of calm, I began my move day routine: organize bags, hang up clothes, find pots, pans, plates, bowls, napkins, towels, utensils, scissors… you know, all the things you use all the time but don’t think about.

I then went to move day routine phase 2: figure out the light switches before it gets dark, connect to the wifi, figure out the heating/cooling… you know, all the things that require ELECTRICITY! I could only chuckle at my folly.

I decided to get up to date on the blackout situation. I picked up my phone to look up emergency and city resources, only to find out this new house’s location was not conducive to phone data service.

Double fail.

By the time the homeowner/friend stopped by to pick up Fay, who had been spending some time with my new housemate Kylie, I was ready to snap.

Two dogs face each other in a living room
Kylie and Fay await my exploding… sort of.

I almost exploded when my friend shared the news (the first I’d been able to muster regarding our situation) that the soonest the power would be back on would be midnight, while some sources said the outages could last up to 5 days.

I panicked. If I was already crawling out of my skin, unable to work or connect with the outside world, how was I going to mentally survive DAYS of my mind racing to figure out solutions while my heart clenched with both fear and hope?

As I considered all of this, I noted the windows rattling ever more slightly.

Australian sheppard and Formosan Mountain Dog laying on carpet
At least I had these two to calm me.

I tried to calm myself by remembering that I was one of the lucky ones. Missing work for me didn’t mean missing out on food or shelter. I was in a home where I could cook using the gas stove, had plenty of supplies, and had dear friends up the road who I could count on for anything.

Yes, I felt supported and grateful, but I also felt so violently alone and fearful.

I made dinner by flashlight as the last rays of Sun dipped in the West. All the while I prepared myself for the impending dark. I knew I’d be afraid. I knew, being in a new house, that each sound would set me off. I knew that being with a new pet any number of situations I hadn’t yet encountered could occur and I’d have to solve for them.

By the time I ate and cleaned up from dinner, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. The mantra, “be ready for the darkness”, on constant replay.

I gathered all the candles available in the living room, lit each one, then settled myself on the couch as Kylie side-eyed my anxiety-filled self from her living room doggie bed. Sitting there I saw I had an opportunity to dig deeper into my feelings; to uncover some shoved away layers of myself forgotten long ago.

Between shadows, I considered my anxiety and fear. Why was I feeling so uneasy? I had all my needs met. I was staying in a nice home in a safe neighborhood. I had all the supplies I needed. I had friends to call upon.

I felt the side of the house quiver as I realized what I no longer had: self reliance. I was completely vulnerable to the situation at hand and to the people around me. Maybe, you never did get through them alone, the wind whispered.

Being vulnerable meant I ran the risk of being denied, refused, pushed away… rejected. I HAD to open up and let go. Considering this, my shoulders inched up to my ears and my gut sank to the floor.

I concluded that here, at the bottom of my inquiry well, was where I had the choice; fight or flight?

This time, I chose fight.

The surrounding sounds quieted as I sat with my reactions and the deep knowing which inspired them. I reminded myself that vulnerability is necessary and stayed with both the discomfort, and elation, at being aware of the opportunity before me.

NOTE: I was also scared of the dark like any normal 37 year old adult. Don’t act like you wouldn’t be.

Once again it took only a few moments of stillness for this illumination. Instead of pushing my fears away and trying to extricate them with logic and reason, I accepted my human-ness; all my moods, feelings, reactions.

I saw by accepting these characteristics I empowered myself to show myself kindness and to make progressive changes. This empowerment had the potential to increase my self efficacy and confidence, and thus increase my ownership over my life while making it more fulfilling.

With this acceptance in mind, the quiet cloak of night wrapped around me reigniting some discomfort, but, secure in my knowing this to be part of the process, I set aside my anxious thoughts and picked up a book.

Not 5 minutes later…. CLICK! The shadows retreated and light was everywhere. I was thankful to have the power back, no doubt, but I also observed how I was left with the disappointment and regret every fighter who wins feels as she exits the ring. The strangling attachment to the action that keeps her alert and on guard.

Now… I know what you may be wondering:

Geesh, Lis, after all this self work you claim, how can you still find such anxiety in these seemingly small moments? Don’t you see yourself a failure for succumbing to the winds, the situation, your own fears?

No, I don’t.

First, because seeing myself as a failure for not “being there yet”, i.e. in a state so enlightened that I’m unable to be swayed by natural human reactions, assumes a “there” exists. In truth, there is no destination on this journey of life. There is only seeing and admitting the truth, accepting or resisting that truth, than taking action accordingly.

Second, I believe that what I go through and feel isn’t me. What IS me is how I choose to respond. So, I can either choose to see my anxiety filled moments as failures as I have done for FAR too long, or I can choose to sit with and accept my reactions, as I did on the night in question. Picking the second option is how I set myself free from the pressures of being “there”.

All this said, I must share with you how legend has it that the winds I spoke of earlier have such an effect on people; in some ancient Middle Eastern cultures, people who committed crimes during the Scirocco were given more lenient punishments.

Perhaps, then, all this narrative I’ve shared with you today is something my mind made up to justify the effects of the winds?

I doubt it. Instead, I like to think of it all as one. I had a choice that night, resist the winds or let them carry me where they wished. Resistance would have meant either standing still or getting knocked over, letting them wash over me guaranteed movement.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that movement is what keeps me going; step by step.


How Owning My Mindset Creates My Reality

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet

On my recent flight from Budapest to Warsaw, I witnessed a tender moment that almost brought me to tears. I was seated on the aisle of a three person row. To my left, a young boy sat by the window, and his father occupied the middle place. About an hour into the flight, just before we started our descent into Warsaw, I observed the father signal for the flight attendant to come over.

They exchanged a few words, of which I knew zero because they were either in Hungarian or Polish, then the flight attendant withdrew to the front of the plane. He returned several moments later with a small package, a toy replica of the airplane we were on. I noted how I’d never seen anyone actually purchase this type of good on a flight before. Doing so always seemed faux paux, but at that moment I couldn’t understand why,.

The man lovingly handed the item to the young boy who gratefully accepted it. I smiled to myself; warmed, and deeply moved by the sweetness of interaction.

I noticed my response, and then took a moment to investigate and break it down. I realized my reaction was based on me viewing the father, who was about my age, through adult eyes. I sympathized with his “being a parent” imposter syndrome that I hear from most of my friends with children, and took joy in assuming his self-doubt dissipated ever so slightly due to his son’s happy face.

I also empathized with the young boy’s point of view. I recognized the immense joy he must have felt after, what to an adult, would be such a simple act, and I let myself sink into the belonging and support he must have held in his young heart.

It was a great moment.

But… here’s the next thought I had:

I have no idea if this story is true.

Yeah, I know what I saw; a man about my age handed a toy plane to a young boy. But, I had no proof that they were even father and son! Did they really feel all the sweetness and joy I described to myself? No clue! The man could be a criminal kidnapping the boy and giving him a toy to keep him quiet, OR he could be a step-father trying to win the love of a spoiled-rotten young child.

I determined that in the end it didn’t matter. What I TOLD myself was my reality, and the story, true or not, brought me joy. This is when the realization happened.

I saw how a simple thought (whether it was true or not) had both changed my mood entirely and crafted my reality. Then it hit me! “What I think has the power to change my outlook on life. If I don’t take ownership of my mindset and what I think, I’ll never be able to architect my best life because someone else will always have power over me.”

Whew… it was a moment, and the resulting thoughts are worthy of some dissecting.

Let’s start with the term “owning my mindset”? To me, this means being in control of how I think about and react to the situations, good and bad, that life throws at me. It also involves being responsible for how I see the world, and the stories I tell myself about what I see.

If I tell myself bad stories about something that happened, my world will probably seem pretty negative. However, if I tell myself good stories, the world will not only seem more positive, but I will also feel empowered to feed the courage I need to make the big changes that make me my best self.

Front of a bookstore and cafe in Budapest
I could look at this as a simple bookshop, or I can be open to the magic of the working space and secret garden within.
Line of beer bottles on a counter
I could tell myself being 37 years old and drinking beers all day in Budapest is irresponsible… or I could look at it as a gift.
Burgers, blues, and beers festival grounds
If I get hung up on telling myself I should be DOING something productive, I might miss out on some great live music at the Budapest Burgers, Blues and Beer Fest.
Outdoor Beer Garden in the Park
Some may look at a Tuesday beer garden visit as unproductive, I chose to look at it as awesome.

One example of “owning my mindset” was last August when I found myself in Bakersfield, California. Shortly after my time there, I wrote a piece depicting my experience of the city.

The short synopsis: Lis arrives in Bakersfield with the perception that it’s a rough, and therefore undesirable, place to be. Hoping to make the most of it, she decides to open her mind and heart, and after a few days of owning her mind, she has experiences which exemplify the beautiful side of the roughness. End scene.

I went to Bakersfield with preconceived notions, and I could have held onto the viewpoints that it was a harsh, mean, and dirty place to be. I could have let those define my time in the city. However, when I took ownership of my thoughts, decided I wanted a positive experience, and then let life happen, I was able to see beyond the reputation to the good that surrounded the town. Instead of having a negative experience, I had quite a positive one, and even hope to go back one day.

Reflecting on this, I asked myself, “Sure owning your mindset works in these smaller moments, but if all that’s needed to change your reality is a change in your mindset, how can disease, despair, injustice, and poverty still be so prevalent in the world we live in? How can so many bad and unfair events still be happening to so many undeserving and innocent people? Can people really change their realities by taking ownership of and changing their minds?

I thought long and hard about this one, as it’s a line I don’t tow lightly, but after sitting with the discomfort of these thoughts, I saw the answer clearly. Yes, changing your mind IS all that’s needed to change YOUR reality, but changing your reality can’t change what happens to you. Let me explain.

It’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Many events take place outside of our heads. People come into our lives and treat us poorly. We lose our jobs due to poor company management. We face injustice due to ignorance and hate. A storm hits our city and takes away our home and all we’ve worked for. These events are out of our control. No matter what happens in our heads, these events transpire.

The good news is it’s not what happens outside of you that defines your reality. Yeah, I said it! So what DOES define YOUR reality? How you think about and react to the external. That choice is 100% up to you!

A great example of taking ownership of one’s mind to shape one’s reality comes from Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime. The book is his story about growing up a mixed race boy in South Africa both during, and after, apartheid. (NOTE: it’s a great read! I highly recommend it!)

Throughout the book, Trevor’s mother is owning her mind, and thus defining her reality. A highly religious woman, she is someone who knows herself, acts from her inner being, and, when good or bad events come her way, accepts and views them through the lens of “God has his reasons”. She knows who she is, and her reality is never swayed. Of course, that doesn’t mean only good things happen to her.

After a harrowing near-death experience, Trevor sits over her hospital bed and says to her, “You’re lucky to be alive. I still can’t believe you didn’t have any health insurance.” “Oh but I do have insurance,” she said. “You do?” he replied. “Yes. Jesus.”

The woman didn’t dwell on the fact that she almost died, she owned her reaction and reframed it based on her deep seated beliefs and inner knowing. Because of this, she didn’t lead with fear, and she didn’t retreat from living to her fullest. She kept on going through life her way, no matter what happened outside of her. I’d wager that she lived the best life she could because of this outlook.

Violinist in Budapest
A violinist owns his reality by playing his finest despite very hot conditions.

Once I had this definition of “owning my mindset”, I started to ask myself, “How do I DO it?”

If you’ve been reading this blog, the first step should come as no surprise. Like Trevor’s mom in the above example, you have to first:

Know yourself

To know yourself, you must go into some sort of stillness.

This could be a formal meditation practice, or sitting still on the train or bus each day without pulling up something to distract you. It might mean taking 5 – 10 minutes before bed to reflect on your day and ask yourself what brought you joy, what took joy from you, where you showed courage, and where you chose compassion. Any of these options going into stillness in my book.

Saint Stephen's Cathedral in Budapest
I found stillness starring at this beauty.
Saint Matthias Church Square in Budapest
I found even more stillness on the walking tour through Budapest. Seeing these sights around me it was impossible not to stop and take them in.

In a video you’ve seen me mention before, The Art of Stillness, the speaker talks about moving to Kyoto, Japan from Manhattan. He notes how living in a place with limited distractions is “clearly not ideal for career advancement nor exciting for social diversion. But I realized that it gives me what I prize most which is days and hours.” He continues saying, “I’ve found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still.”

However you can make the time and space for it, be still each day and you will no doubt be on the path to self knowing.

It’s important to note that being still isn’t the only method necessary for acquiring self knowledge, nor is owning your mindset and telling yourself good stories the only way to craft the reality you want.

Once you’ve got a stillness practice on lock and you’ve begun observing and owning your mind, you must begin to ask yourself an all important question. This question is imperative to creating an authentic reality:

Where am I lying to myself?

I lie to myself a lot. I believe I do this to protect my status quo way of thinking. As an example, when I was in Budapest earlier this Summer I was getting frustrated at not knowing the language. My lack of knowledge caused me to feel powerless in many of my experiences.

I then observed myself (through stillness) starting to blame this powerlessness on the world around me. I was faulting everything else for my lack. When I started to feel these frustrations I knew it was time to ask myself, “Where am I lying to myself?”

Hungarian street sign
What’s in 15 meters? I have no idea!
Budapest Building Facade
A facade is only that. We need to dig deeper.

I answered, “You’re the one giving your power away. No one here cares whether you know the language or not. Take back your power.” And that’s just what I did.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” ~Alice Walker

The situations I encountered which I previously found frustrating didn’t decrease in number, but they DID decrease in frustration because I was now owning my reaction to them. Instead of being embarrassed or feeling vulnerable, I embraced my otherness and love of self. It was a simple mind switch, but it made a world of difference.

So yes, it really is as simple as changing what we think. How can I be so sure? Yeah, these examples are nice anecdotes, but how do I know this can happen out there in the “real world”? Because I’m living it!

Besides the examples I’ve provided so far, there’s the overarching narrative of my life. Oh yeah, I’m going there. Hold on to your hat!

As a woman raised in the rural United States, my entire reality/mindset growing up, what I was told my life needed to be in order for me to live my best self, was one of 1. find a husband, 2. have kids, and 3. be a dutiful wife, mother, and local citizen, and you will find happiness.. I had no other understanding of what life should be.

When I got to my early 30s and was nowhere close to this narrative I TOLD MYSELF I wanted to live, a dear friend said to me, “You know. Maybe you’re lying to yourself. You’re a person who will work to achieve anything you want. If you really wanted this life you say you want, you would have worked harder for it. Maybe it’s not what you want.”

Mind blown!

He was right, of course. Once I saw this narrative was not a reality I wanted, but rather a reality taught to me over the course of decades, I realized I needed to get my mind right and align it with my heart. Instead of beating myself up for being bad at finding a husband, a place to settle, or just bad at being a woman in general, I owned my perspective. I took ownership of my mind.

Now, here I am several years later, no longer faking that I want on that traditional path (though the ghosts of it linger, I won’t deny it).

This doesn’t mean only good things happen to me now that I own my mindset. Bad events do still happen, but now instead of letting them own my reality I take my power back and react to them in a much more centered, powerful, confident way. By no longer reacting from fear, I am directing my life, my way.

You can now see how owning my mind, and thus my reality, is the second structure needed to architect my best life. It’s a structure that, much like the first, any of us can work on no matter our environments.

By owning my mind I am in control of how I view and react to what happens outside of me. I’m no longer at the whim of others, or feel under the control of the powers surrounding me. I am my own master, which leaves me feeling afraid, alone, and powerless no more!.

On the contrary, I feel confident, assured, and empowered to act on my own instincts and desires. With these beliefs to anchor me, I can then take the hard, unconventional actions needed to walk my own path toward architecting the life that’s best for me.

It’s on me, no one else can do it.

At least… that’s what I like to think.


My Best Guess at Cultivating Happiness (So Far)

I told you how the morning after my arrival in Billingshurst, UK I woke with a terror. That moment sparked some further ideas on happiness that I want to run by you. I’ll start by describing that waking up in more detail.

As I groggily questioned the source of my fear, I recalled how, as of just a few hours prior, the homeowners had departed; leaving me completely alone in their home (except for the two very cute, cuddly basset hounds on either side of me whom I would be watching for the next 2 weeks). I resonated with my solitude deeply, which only served to stoke the flames of my anxiety.

Two Basset Hounds seated on a kitchen floor looking at the camera
The two bassets: Penny and Milly.

As the intensity of my horror strengthened, I imagined the feeling as a sort of ghostly transparent, skeleton-like hand hovering over my torso. Visualizing the hand was scary enough, but then I saw the apparition reach in to my chest, find my heart, and grip it so tightly I couldn’t breath.

That’s when the thoughts start. The self depreciating, growth denying, inhabilitating thoughts we all feel when we’re on the precipice of expansion and are afraid to take the next step.

What if something happens to me while I’m here? Who would I call? Why did I come here alone? I’ve made a terrible mistake stepping off the path most traveled and will certainly be punished for it.

I watched as the vice clenched tighter with each debilitating notion. Eventually, the moment passed and I was able to go about the rest of the day, but the essence didn’t dissipate entirely.

A week later I woke around 3am. I did that a lot during my stay in England. Maybe it was jet-lag, the suffocation of two basset hounds fighting to lay on top of me (one of which weighs 60 pounds and is convinced she’s a lap dog), or the fact that I’m not a good sleeper, but there I was again, lying awake in the early morning hours.

Human between two basset hounds on a bed
I was the human in a basset hound sandwich.

This night, the hand reappeared. As it crept towards me, it brought with it a reminder how all week long images of the places, people, and events from my life in New York City (where I lived from 2008 – 2016) pushed their way into my head as my heart longed to be amongst them.

In an attempt to fend off my grisly foe, I considered my yearning for the city. Missing NYC seemed quite strange because I was just there no more than a couple of weeks before. Having such a strong pull felt out of place, misaligned, and unnecessary if its cause was timing. This made me question what else was at its root?

I thought more about New York, hoping that doing so would quell my adversary and allow me to return to my slumber. I brought to mind the wonderful life I had there. I reflected on the career I built, and on how I was so passionate about it then. I imagined my life of friends, plays, sports, and being out just about every night of the week. I loved those times.

I chided myself for not keeping this world alive. How could I throw a captivating life that I worked so hard for away?! The hand clamped down on my heart.

I struggled out a breath and then pointed out to myself that I left NYC because it was no longer for me. I know I left for good reasons, and, although I love visiting, I reaffirmed to myself that I no longer have a need to live there.

I ended this nocturnal self discussion with, “That life in NYC wasn’t yours’.”

The clasp released and I sucked in a deep breath, as I thought, “Oh, that’s what my NYC thoughts are really about. I crave the distractions I had there. I’m grasping for that ability to ignore the realities of who I really am again.”

When I lived in New York, I built this “never ending, something to keep me busy” life and used it as my identity. I could point to it and say “that’s me”, and all was well with the world because I could prove I MADE it. Even better the always busy side of me never had time to examine if I was being honest with myself or not (Not-so-spoiler-alert: I wasn’t).

After 8 years of pointing though, I felt empty. I felt empty because, well, I was empty. All of those items I was pointing at were not actually ME.

This line of thinking stifled my anxieties for the night, and I was able to find rest once again, but when I awoke the next day, I was changed. I had somehow (my subconscious at work while I slept?) concocted a realization from the previous night’s narrative.

I originally thought that ghastly hand of terror was brought on by my fear of being alone without others, but after my dance with my devils that night, I realized this original line of thinking was incorrect. There was one thing and one thing only that sparked that hand’s creeping and crawling towards me:

My deep-seated despair of being alone while not knowing myself.

Yeah, sit with that for a second. I did.

I asked myself why I am afraid of being alone not knowing myself, and here’s the logic I came up with.

I don’t know myself, so I look to things outside of myself to define me (other people, identities, activities, etc). I’ve done this my whole life. I call myself a jock or a smart kid or a consultant or a User Experience professional… you name it!

Now, the cool thing about doing this is by externalizing my identity, I’m no longer responsible for living my best life. The external qualities which I deem as me become responsible for my happiness. I can always blame them if something goes awry. It’s a win-win! I get an identity AND I give up responsibility.

For example, if I realize I’m unhappy in my work, I can blame that work for making me unhappy instead of accepting that maybe I didn’t put in the effort of considering what makes me happy professionally, nor did I have the courage to go towards it.

I do this because I’m scared to fail. I can blame the external things and then… well then I never fail!

When I’m alone and don’t know myself, I’m without the objects or people I use to define who I am, and to whom I give my power. This is REALLY SCARY because it causes me to realize that either:

A. I’m nobody or
B. I really AM responsible for my happiness, but I’ve been slacking on this front BIG TIME.

Even worse, if I admit B is the answer (it is), then I can’t help but see that I have a whole lot of work to put in to make myself happy. This is a terrifying prospect to face, because I could always fail if I actually take responsibility and TRY.

The solution I went to in the past was ensuring I was never alone (Sound familiar?). I kept myself busy, around people, part of something.

Then I came to see that this solution is not sustainable, especially for those of us who want to architect our best lives. Eventually I will be alone, it’s inevitable.

Further, if I want to architect my best life I NEED to be alone without distractions in order to process my life, consider what brings me joy, consider what takes joy from me, and then conjure up the resolve to act on these findings.

So, what do I DO to keep that hand of terror at bay?

I do the hard work of going inward and getting to know myself.

I often say I’m on this journey to uncover how to architect my best life. I’m telling you today one of the most important steps in doing so is to do like the ancients have been telling us for years!

“Know thyself.” ~ Socrates

Yes, the ancient Greeks knew how important this act of self discovery is, which is why they inscribed the words on to one of their sacred temples.

In conjunction with Western Philosophy, The Tao Te Ching taunts that:

Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing the self is enlightenment. Mastering others requires force. Mastering the self requires strength.

Yeah so I’d say getting to know ourselves is pretty damn important.

How do you get to know yourself?

The Lis Hubert version begins with honestly and extensively answering these questions:

What brings me joy?

What takes joy from me?

For example:

Basset hound resting head on an end table.
Go ahead and try to not smile at this one. Definite joy bringer!
A sign which reads "Welcome to Arundel Historic Town"
I love a historic town.
Horsham coffee roaster sign
Locally roasted coffee ALWAYS brings me joy.
Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England
Seeing a castle always brings me joy.
A large art piece on the side of castle walls.
Im welcomed with some fun wall art.
Roof of The Parish and Priory Church of Saint Nicholas Arundel
It brought me great happiness to look up at this lovely scene.
Billinghurst park lawn
Walking through nature always brings joy to my heart.
A West Sussex footpath
Walking down a footpath in the English countryside? A shoe in for joy!

The experiences you see above all brought me joy. However it’s important to remember that I have to continue to ask why they brought me joy, AND I have to be HONEST with the answers if I’m going to get to know myself.

It’s also important to note that I won’t just ask and answer these questions once and be done with it. I must continually ask and answer these questions for as long as I am alive, AND in order for me to do this questioning and answering properly:

I must be still.

Recently, I came upon this video talking about the importance of stillness.

Funny enough the speaker talks about how much he loves traveling. About a minute into the video, he points out that, “One of the first things you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes to it.”

He goes on to describe how to “bring the right eyes” to life. His version was to go into stillness. For him it was “The only way that I could find to sift through the slideshow of my experience and make sense of the future and the past.”

NOTE: He also talks about how he had a fabulous job and life in NYC, and then says “I could never separate myself enough from it to hear myself think or really to understand if I was truly happy”. Coincidence? I think not!

Ultimately the speaker’s advice is “to sit still long enough to find out what moves you most to recall where your truest happiness lies, and to remember that sometimes making a living and making a life point in opposite directions.”

I’ve decided the only way forward is to take the “making a life” path. I know that in order to make that life fulfilling, I need to make it mine.

If I continue to go forward without knowing myself, I will never find personal fulfillment or meaning because instead of living my own life, I’ll be living another person/people’s story, and that story can never fill me up.

I must then know myself, find my own story. How I do this is up to me. No one else, no privilege, no environment, no other people, nothing outside me is responsible. If I fail to be happy, there is only one person to blame. Myself.

Either way, there’s failure to be faced. I’ll either risk failing to find true happiness or risk failing in my attempts to try.

I think it’s time to opt for trying.


An (Un)usual Arrival

My arrival in England was simultaneously normal and not so.

The red-eye flight landed at Gatwick on time (around 10am local time), and we got to the gate and off the plane without issue. Once inside the airport, I made my routine path to the restroom to both brush my teeth and ensure I looked like a person one would trust to take care of their home and pets for a few weeks.

Appearance intact, I put my carry-on bags in place (backpack holding all my clothes and laptop on my back, office bag holding my notebooks, chargers, and necessary next day toiletries on a shoulder, and cross-body purse holding purse things across the other shoulder), then half-awake walked my way to baggage reclaim.

Thankfully my carry-on sized roller was among the first to show itself, and with all my bags accounted for, I regarded my air travel a success. Then, I headed towards customs.

NOTE: I was delighted to find that England’s passport/customs process was among the easiest I’ve seen. It goes a little something like this (for US citizens it does, anyway). Wait in a short line (due to the many lanes they had open). Walk up to a machine and set your passport down to scan. Walk into the UK. Not bad.

Walking out of customs, I saw the homeowner holding a “Lis” sign and a steaming hot, fresh seeming cup of coffee. Woohoo! She and I chatted as we made our way to her car, then laughed as I, embarrassingly, tried to get in on the drivers’ side of the vehicle (“Everyone does that.” she assured me).

She drove us the 25 minutes home, where upon arrival the bassets I’d be sitting were quite excited to see me (in truth they are excited to see most anyone).

Two basset hounds asleep on a couch.
You can see how energetic these two can be. Mildred is in the foreground, Penelope in the background.

We entered the kitchen where I met the second homeowner, and the three of us humans went about the familiar (to me) dance of getting to know the people we were trusting with our dearest possessions. (They trusting me with their home and pets. Me trusting them with my safety and security.)

They showed me their narrow, stair-driven, but quite adorable home, and explained what to keep an eye on and how all the home paraphernalia worked.

Next, we settled back in the kitchen and discussed the dogs’ routines, what else I should expect during my stay, (milkman on Tuesday and Saturday. Fish man is in town on Thursday.) and then planned out the remainder of our day together. They were leaving the next day for Canada, and per usual we had planned a day of overlap time together in the house.

Orange juice in a glass bottle in front of cookbookes
Fresh Orange Juice arrives each Saturday.
Eggs sitting on the kitchen counter
We also get fresh eggs delivered each Saturday. I’m digging this buy local life!

The day together involved walking the girls, then meeting up for an afternoon cider at the pub a few doors down. This agenda suited my jet-lagged state quite well.

The Six Bells pub from the High Street
The Six Bells is where we had a proper cider welcome.

Further intricacies of our time together involved the Canadian born homeowner (the second homeowner I met) helping me to adjust to the many word differences I would encounter here in England. For example, he explained that the ATM is called the Cash Point, that you don’t order coffee by asking for a “coffee” but rather asking for an americano/espresso/latte, and that hot sauce is few and far between.

You know, the important things.

As you can see.. all was going according to a normal house sitter script.

Later that night, the parents of the English born homeowner joined us for a dinner of burgers, ciders, and beers. They also stayed the night as all four of them were flying out early the next morning.

Let me stop here.

Know that although the particulars of my arrival at a new home change each time (i.e. the people, settings, pets), the flow of is one you’ve heard time and again (if you’ve followed this blog. If not you’ll just have to go back and read OR you can just trust me.)

Here’s where it differed.

As we 5 sat outside eating together, I had a moment. Chalk it up to my lack of sleep, my jet-lag, the cider and wine, or all of the above, but for the first time during an arrival, I not only saw, but deeply felt, my outsiderness. This had nothing to do with how my hosts were treating me, but had everything to do with my growth and reflection throughout this journey.

When my house-sitting adventures began I felt quite included and “a part of” during my arrival times with the homeowners. I would marvel at how in no time I’d made new friends who let me into their homes and trusted me with their pets.

Over time I noticed how when the sits were over our lives separated again; we went back to our normal ebbs and flows without each other. More often than not I’d not encounter their world again, despite having such an intense connection when we first met. (I should note this “going back to normal” is to be expected and isn’t negative, AND in some cases I have been lucky enough to stay in touch with homeowners!)

In that moment over dinner, I resonated with the divergent part of the housesitting story, and sat with the knowledge that I’d probably not see or hear from the people seated around me again after my departure.

Then, my perspective darkened. I foresaw their life going on as normal and amazing, and mine going on with me being deeply impacted by opening myself up to their home and pets but being left alone without their energies to fuel and validate me.

I was ashamed of my perceived inequality of effect we’d have on each other’s lives. I then labeled myself as someone unable to figure out their own life, and thus needing to hover in and out of the lives of others to leech off their life experiences. I considered myself needy, unsettled, and inadequate.

This moment came and went fairly quickly, but the aftermath of it stays with me as I continue to sit and wonder narratives like:

Stepping into someone else’s life doesn’t make it my life. BUT stepping into someone else’s life is what I do as a house sitter. So then, what IS my life?

The next morning I awoke around 7am and dutifully reminded myself where I was (“You’re in Billingshurst, England sitting Penelope and Mildred…”). I was exhausted from the previous day’s travel, and curious why I hadn’t heard anything from the dogs when the family left for their flight earlier that morning. Was I really that tired that I slept through 4 people and 2 dogs living a morning together? I learned that yes, I was.

I walked down the many stairs to find the girls sleeping soundly in the lounge (or living room as we Americans say), then stepped into the kitchen where instead of the shame I expounded upon myself the night before, I was greeted with the most marvelous departing gifts. Cleary the homeowners were grateful for my services.

3 ciders and a bottle of wine with a note
Penny looks over at me as I ogle the homeowners’ generous gifts!

After taking stock that everything was as it should be (despite my half chewed flip-flop. Touche, Bassets) I climbed my way back up to the top floor, bassets following me all the while, and the three of us laid down for another few hours.

Back of a narrow town house
This is the house from the backyard. The room I’m staying in is the top set of windows.

When we woke back up, a feeling of terror arose with me.

I’m alone in England. I know absolutely zero people in this town. How will I meet people?

I had felt this feeling before, but had never given it a voice. I made note, and reminded myself I still had no answers to these questions. But, I made my way back downstairs to consider it all. I spent all weekend considering it. This is what I came up with so far:

I love my life. I love that I can sit and write or read in places like these:

Roses bloom in the fenced in backyard
Roses in bloom!

Then hangout for a bit with friends such as these:

Two basset hounds sit on a chair in the living room
Milly (back) and Penny look kind of like models here. So cute!

Yet, in these arrival moments where I’m presented with the happy path stories of those I sit for, because of course I don’t see the hard, real-life moments when only meeting them for a day or two at a time, I question my life choices.

Often these questioning periods fade over the weeks, but this time instead of waiting for them to dissolve, I’d like to be an active participant in helping their dissolution along. I want to learn from my past self, and go through rather than around the issues I’m facing and the discomfort I’m feeling.

More, I’d like to sit with the anxiety of not knowing the future, of being different from the story presented to us (as I believe the majority of us, if not all of us are), and of walking a path alone. Then, from that sitting, I’d like to create an even greater confidence in myself.

You’ve heard me talk about this process once or twice so we know it’s possible. You’ve seen me choose the high road before as well, so we know I have the ability.

This time isn’t any different than those other times. So, why am I writing about it?

I write to show all of us that it takes TIME and consistent PRACTICE to architect one’s best life. It doesn’t happen once just from learning a lesson or realizing a mistake. It’s something we must come back to over and over and over again.

Remember, the journey is the destination, which means there simply IS no destination.

Let’s keep on walking up to and through those small, but important moments then, shall we?


Craving Alone Time: Is It OK to Spend Time Alone?

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
Embracing her aloneness, realizing
She is one with the whole Universe.

~ An excerpt from Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching – as Translated by Stephen Mitchell


I sit writing, hoping you don’t perceive the output as a presumption of enlightenment or wisdom. Since my focus here is based off an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching, the irony of my hope doesn’t elude me.

What IS the Tao Te Ching, otherwise called The Book of the Way or The Book of The Way and of How It Manifests Itself in the World?

Enter the term “Tao Te Ching” into a search engine and you’ll find the following definition:

The Tao Te Ching is the central Taoist text, ascribed to Lao-tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism. Apparently written as a guide for rulers, it defined the Tao, or way, and established the philosophical basis of Taoism.

What is The Tao?

To solve that question, I recommend reading the book. The Lis Hubert version of the Tao’s message is:

Stop trying so hard to BE. By trying, you’re not being, by not being, you’re caught up in trying and therefore missing out on life!

It’s a riddle, and yet, the Tao is the most efficient formula for living a fulfilling life I’ve encountered.

I was reading the Tao Te Ching the other night after a long few days of reflection. I’d been spending a lot of time alone in the countryside, and enjoying the quiet and solitude. More than just enjoying it, I was loving it!

I recognized how much I feared this enjoyment. I started to consider what enjoying my solitude meant. Questions arose.

Why do I like being alone so much? Is my craving alone time just a resistance to connecting and being vulnerable with others? Is me wanting to be alone, me trying to cop out of life?

Then the foundational, ever pervading question: IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?

An aside. I’ve thought the last question most of my life. Many of us do. We yearn for a “right” way to live, and we’re sure it’s not the way we’re currently living. We believe that by trying hard enough we’ll start living “right”. Then we presume that when we start living “right”, everyone who has denied us will accept us for who we are. Peace and harmony will then reign forevermore.

Hey, I’ve thought this. So, don’t act like you haven’t.

Back to the story. As I was reading, one chapter resonated with my recent reflections on solitude, answering my questions surrounding feelings of otherness, ordinariness, and simplicity.

Chapter 20 of the Tao Te Ching – as Translated by Stephen Mitchell

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.”


It has taken millennia to translate and understand the text, and I know my depth of knowledge here is shallow. Still, I’ve bolded the lines which provide the most meaning to me at this time.

My relationship to most of the bold sentiments is easy to assume.

“Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!” – I’ve certainly stated my independence and separateness a time or two.

“Drifting, possessing nothing, like someone without a home”; no surprises there.

“I drift like a wave on the ocean, I blow as aimless as the wind”; yep we’ve heard this on the blog before.

But, this line, I am different from ordinary people, now there’s the stanza that cut into me.

In his notes Mitchell untangles this sharp phrase adding, “I am more ordinary. When I am hungry, I eat; when I am tired, I sleep; that’s all.”

His addition moved me because I realized it describes the rhythm of life I find when I’m alone. When alone, I am often without distraction and can clearly see that all I need for a fulfilling life is food, sleep, and love.

Think about it… what else?

Our careers? Those guarantee food and a place to sleep. Our family, friends, partners? They guarantee love. (NOTE: I use the word “guarantee” to reflect our hopes and intentions, but I think it benefits us all to remember there is no guarantee… ever.)

When I take time alone, there is nothing I’m trying to do but observe the world around me. I also note how the food, sleep, and love point plays out with animals.

Dog stare at deer
I watch as Lyla stares down a doe outside the Lyle house.
Cat laying comfortably on a tree branch
Loved seeing Veronica hang out (Sorry… couldn’t help myself).
Cat face
Ron definitely wants my attention… He gets a lot of love with this face.
A view of the Columbia River.
Nothing like seeing these views on a hike alone – Looking East down the Columbia from Catherine Creek Trail in Washington State.
Peak of Mount Hood and view of the Columbia from WA State
A view from the Washington State side over at the Columbia River, Oregon, and the peak of Mount Hood.

Consider that your pet may rarely ever leave your house or property YET they are excited to see you come home from work each day. I don’t believe this excitement is due only to their brains not being “as developed” as ours. I believe their excitement stems from their needs of food, sleep, and love being met. They need nothing else to be excited about life.

Aren’t these same needs, the only ones we humans have? If all of these were met for you, what else would you NEED to live a full life?

Observing and acknowledging these moments when alone, doesn’t mean I want to spend ALL my time alone, of course. But, when I take the time to be quiet, to BE, I connect with this brilliant ordinariness. I find contentment in this space.

This practice of observing the world without distraction, shows me that whether alone or with others, if I’m participating in anything where I’m TRYING to create and fulfill needs outside of the basics, that’s when I’m copping out; when I’m TRYING to make my life have MEANING, instead of connecting with the meaning of my life.

Perhaps I crave alone time so much because it’s when I’m best able to stop TRYING and start actually living?

Right or wrong, that’s where I’m at.


My First Interview! – The Informed Life Podcast

I was on a podcast!



Jorge Arango Tweet
Tweet announcing my interview on The Informed Life podcast.

Last month, while housesitting in the Columbia River Gorge, my friend and colleague, Jorge Arango invited me to be a guest on his new show The Informed Life podcast.

Here’s a description of the show from the website: The Informed Life is an interview-based podcast that explores how people from different fields manage their personal information ecosystems to be more effective.

I had a blast chatting with Jorge about my journey; how I choose where to go, what I learn along the way, and, most interesting, what structures I put into place to keep going.

Take a listen when you have 30 minutes of ear time to spare, and be sure to report back on what you think!

Lis Hubert on Living an Intentional Life


Sensing a Shift

When I first started out on this adventure, I pictured myself as the heroine in my own archetypal journey. I knew I was beginning as The Fool, but could see myself taking on The World in no time. I was sure that by diligently walking the path placed before me, that of a life traveling to new places, meeting new people, and spending a lot of time alone in introspection, I’d be able to conquer the necessary tasks allowing me to learn and grow into a better, more giving, and more purposeful person. I’d basically architect my best life.

Fast forward 13 months, and I have indeed made much of my travels. I have many new friends, have experienced countless new places, and have even started to encounter those who find some hope in my stories based off my introspection.

Thing is, I don’t feel anywhere near finished with this journey, and even worse, I’m disconcerted at what I AM sensing.

That being: The path I am supposed to be walking is shifting, and this is throwing me all out of whack.

As I said, I thought observing new places and spreading my energy out as wide as possible would force me to extend and challenge myself. I figured by constantly throwing myself into a world of discomfort, and thus constantly having to swim through that world back to a comfortable place, I’d reach my end goal of architecting my best life.

However, I’m seeing now that I need a bit of self care and comfort along the way, and admitting this need, and then changing up my plans to meet it, is terrifying.

I believe the main reason I’m scared of this shift is because I’m afraid that altering my path means I’ve either A. failed or B. started to move in the wrong direction and away from growth.

Now… it’s not as if I’m NOT excited about, and grateful to be, traveling. It’s that with each step I take, I further realize that a new place, or anything external, isn’t solely responsible for my growth. As I’ve said before, it is up to me to change myself for any progress to be made, and I’ve proved to myself I can do this work anywhere and at anytime if, of course, I put in the effort.

What I’m seeing my new path shift to, may seem obvious considering the tagline of this blog, but I assure you I’m just realizing its fullness and importance in these past couple of days. The new focus being to work as hard as I can to align with that which makes me my best self as much as I possibly can.

I believe this practice of aligning with what is best is a combination of awareness (“What is this experience?”), reflection (“How does this experience help or hinder me?”), and acceptance (“Can I surrender to this experience and learn and grow from it?”). I can practice this wherever I am and in any situation I find myself, for the practice happens within me.

The main cause of this shift is that through this practice I’ve noticed traveling to new places while working is extremely exhausting for me. When I’m doing so, yes, I’m lucky be able to travel and work, but with each new place I not only have to physically get to the location, but I have to figure out every day logistics like meals, laundry, internet… you name it.

Therefore, if I’m traveling to multiple new places in a week or month, I’m doing this logistical dance over and over again, and it takes up a lot of my physical, mental, and emotional space. With this space taken up, I surely can’t do the self-work needed. Instead I’m just focusing on finding homeostasis. Distracting myself perhaps? Hmmmm.

When I’m in one place for awhile, however, I see that I can put together routines that make the every day life more efficient. So if I’m accepting the shift my path needs to take to allow me to align and be my best self, I see that going forward I have to travel to fewer new places and instead work to get back to familiar places where my routines are already set.

This means choosing comfort instead of courage, and in these times I question if choosing comfort is indeed the courageous act. Can you see my struggle?!

I thought about this a lot when I returned to The Gorge last week. I observed how I was SO relieved to be able to anchor in, work, and rest knowing the basics of the world around me. I knew where the grocery store was, where my favorite places were, where there would be free and good wifi. I also recognized how privileged I was and am to be able to feel this relief, and, being honest, I don’t want THAT to go to waste. But, again, I digress.

When talking to a local friend she mentioned how it’s as if being back in The Gorge now, I have more friends and go out more than when I lived here. Thing is, she’s right!

By being back in the familiar I can turn off the parts of my brain that are struggling to create structure because my structures are already in place. Instead I can use that energy to open myself up to new experiences and people. I can even open up to familiar friends but in a better way.

show at the hood river ruins
Live music at a local venue.
kelly and Lis
I get to go see live music with a friend when I’m in a familiar place. Woohoo!
Jacob Williams Winery
So lucky to be able to hang with friends in a beautiful place like this!
Jacob Williams Winery door
Enjoying a tasting with friends at Jacob Williams Winery.
terrier lying in the yard
Im sure Lyla would be happy to have me back.

I now see this opening up is just as much a part of the work as confronting the discomfort of a new place or person. In fact, it seems a deeper level of the onion to peel away.

The universe echoed this hypothesis when earlier this week I was invited back for potential housesits in both New Mexico for two to three months this upcoming winter, and Oakland for a month next Spring.

If these invites had happened earlier in my journey, I wouldn’t have considered them. Instead, I would have told myself that I needed to “get out and see new and different things”. Now I see that exposing myself to the uncomfortable and new is important, but it’s only the first step. I now have to take my practice deeper while in these familiar places.

I suppose, then, that I still am the heroine on this journey, but the meaning and way to the destination has leveled up. Perhaps this moment of reflection was one of those crisis moments where I assess the learnings I’ve gained and use them to better direct my aims?

When I think in this way I no longer wallow in the feelings of failure and doubt, but, instead I see how much I AM succeeding. I also see I’m doing so on my own terms, and, even better, doing so beyond all measure.

How cool is that?


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!

Experiencing Old Parts of My Life Anew

I knew that when I arrived back from Europe I’d find little rest. I was aware of the activity upon activity I had lined up which would whisk me about the North East, and, in truth, I was excited for the upcoming time with friends and family. What I didn’t realize, however, was that despite my lack of repose, I’d still be able to reflect, to continue to grow, and to find the inspiration needed to continue my journey.

This has been a special finding.

I always assumed my life-long mental and emotional fatigue was due to a lack of sleep. I do a lot, which I know is my choice, and I always figured my activity level was what wore me down. Thus, I’m invariably thinking about how to get more and better sleep so I can FINALLY, after 37 years on this planet, feel rested.

This morning (I’m drafting this post on Sunday June 23… My niece’s 12th birthday!) I woke up from a deep sleep just like the type I’ve been wishing for. It was great, except that I didn’t FEEL any more well rested than other mornings. Bummer.

As I bounced around these past couple of weeks from New York City to Providence, RI to Boston, MA to East Hartford, CT, and then finally to Fremont Center, NY, I found myself developing a hypothesis that would address this lack of feeling better even when I had more and better sleep. This morning my hypothesis seemed confirmed:

Maybe my feeling of fatigue isn’t caused by a lack of sleep at all. Maybe I’ve been expending too much of my energy on activities and people that drain me, instead of on those that fill me up.

The reason this thought came to me is because as I’ve been traveling around the past few weeks, I’ve been super conscious of who and what activities I give my energy to; choosing to spend more energy on people and things which fill me as opposed to those that leach off my light.

As a result, I’ve noticed the direct effects of my fatigue level lessening which I simply haven’t felt just from getting more or better sleep.

What are the activities and who are the people I’ve been spending my energy on? Here let me show you.

Lis and Clewi close up
Clewi and I arrive at our AirBnB in Providence, RI.
friends in the stands at Fenway park
Our crew has a relaxing afternoon at Fenway Park.
Family at dinner
The family gets together for dinner in MA. PS that’s the niece who just turned 12!
Lis in front of a pond.
Enjoying nature at A.W. Stanley Park
View from Wickham Park
The view from Wickham Park in Manchester, CT (my new favorite place!)
View of trees and hills
The view from my brother and sister-in-law’s house.
Pond in the country
More of my brother and sister-in-law’s beautiful property.
Lis holding her baby nephew
Me holding my new nephew, Nolan Christopher!

After these most recent travels, I’ve come to realize that simply getting more and better sleep is not enough for this self-proclaimed empath to feel my best. Instead I have to both get good rest AND monitor where and who my energy is shared with in order to feel alert, and to decrease my overarching cloud of tired.

What gives my hypothesis even more credit is that for the past few weeks I’ve been staying in places where I used to live full time, and where I am used to feeling my normal level of fatigue. Yet when I applied my new exercise of deciding where to place my energy while in these old and familiar environments, I noticed how much more calm and connected I felt.

So you see, my external environment was pretty much exactly the same as it was for the first 22 years of my life, but I was able to feel different while in it.

In addition to these findings, as I moved about these familiar locations as the 37 year old woman I’ve become, I couldn’t help but think on who I was all those years before.

While visiting my old roommate in Connecticut, for example, I thought back to my early twenties and to who I thought I wanted to be at that time. That Lis of 15 years ago believed she should stay at a full-time job, get married, buy a home, have children, and retire quietly with grandchildren waiting for her. For years I imagined my life starting, and ending, in Connecticut. Now, I can’t even conceive of many of these events occurring. It was a truly odd sensation.

I had a similar experience when I was back in upstate New York as I thought on who I was in grade and high school. I saw how, back then, I gave so much of myself away in order to try to conform to the narrative, and to attempt to be accepted and loved. I also saw how all of that energy was wasted as it went towards creating a false persona whose only goal was to “fit in”. Further, I saw how putting all my energy towards trying to gain the approval of others is what has sucking my energy dry all my life.

My perspectives have indeed broadened as I experience old parts of my life anew. But, most importantly, as I continue this journey I see how I’m taking control of and falling in love with my own narrative.

I’m now confidently deciding who and what gets my time. I’m also deciding who and what I want to be, and I’m deciding where I’m going and why.

This is an incredibly empowering realization, and I believe I owe it all to listening to my gut and stepping off the path most traveled.

With all of these new empowering beliefs and inspirations to guide me, I simply can’t wait to see where MY path takes me next.

Best of all, I have no doubt it’ll be to exactly wherever I’m supposed to be.