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!

Insights from a Life Well-Traveled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Shop in Lisbon
The Oficina Impossivel Shop

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

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

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

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

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

How could I be like them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know in the comments below!

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.

Remembering Courage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose courage over comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being honest and courageous was paying off!

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

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

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

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

mural along a walk
Some Lisbon street art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Short Stop in Switzerland

This time last week I would have been writing to you with this view before me:

Buildings with Mountains in the background
The view from Gilles and Claudia’s flat.

That’s the French Alps you see in the distance, and it’s also the view from my dear friends’ apartment in Lausanne, Switzerland. I landed in Lausanne on a Thursday afternoon, and by Sunday was making my way to Lisbon, Portugal. The time in-between, however, was far from wasted.

Since the three of us were free to adventure on Friday, we rented a car and headed to Gruyères and nearby Broc. Our plan was to take in some nature in Broc, then visit the H.R. Giger museum while also perusing the medieval town of Gruyères where the museum is located. It was a great plan for the day, and we kicked if off with some coffee in Broc.

Espresso with cream
I usually don’t take cream with my espresso, BUT this cream is made with the same milk that’s used in Gruyere cheese. When in Rome.
Landscape sign pointing out mountain peaks
These signs are all over in local towns. They point out the mountains in view and their respective heights (in meters).

Our hike was nothing short of amazing. The trail, which closely followed a river, sat at the bottom of jagged, striated rock walls on both sides of the water. These elements allowed for spooky caves to venture through and beautiful bridges to cross. The ascent culminated in a view of a large dam and reservoir for us to admire.

A river running through rock
The river nestled between the rock.
Rock
Check out the striations.
A cave to walk through
A spooky cave awaits.
Bridge
We walked down and across this bridge. The scene felt straight out of a film.
A dam and water
Gilles, Claudia, and I take a breather at the dam.

Despite the jaw dropping beauty at every turn, what most appealed to me was the signage placed at critical points in what seemed like backwoods areas.

signs
There are no roads for cars in sight, but there are plenty of signs pointing out how to get around on foot.

The Swiss are a walking folk, so hiking 6 kilometers then strolling (that’s a lie, the Swiss don’t stroll, they walk like any good New Yorker might) several more to the next village isn’t a stretch.

We American, French, and German folk are not Swiss, thus at the end of our hike we opted for the bus back to the car. Along our short bus ride, I noted a few people walking the area, and a quaint, cozy feeling came over me. It was just so cool to see people living in and walking through seemingly remote sites as if it they were in a bustling city. It shows a level of trust and community, and a oneness I think.

Winding trail
That trail you see in the foreground leads to a house… not kidding.

Back at the car, we made our way to Gruyères and the museum. As you can imagine, the sites were still amazing. The museum itself was impactful. For those that don’t know H.R. Giger is the creator of the Alien films. The museum showcased these and other works of his, as well as his private collections. His work is extremely detailed, but also houses a great deal of balance of machinery, humanity… and the occult. Did you know Giger drew a Tarot deck? Nor did I, dear reader. Nor did I.

What impacted me the most, however, was my imagining his frame of mind. I asked myself if someone who created such arts, and had such successes with them, was happy. Or were they so driven to create a world, or so tormented by their imaginings, that they never found peace?

Welcome to Gruyères
The sign welcomes us to Gruyères.
Gruyères
Gruyères Streets!
Church
A view from the Gruyères Castle

Experiencing these beautiful places and the delicious treats they offered was lovely, but it was nothing in comparison to what my friends and I did throughout the day and later that night (and for the rest of the weekend, really).

We talked to each other. Lovely, enriching, detailed, adult conversations were had. Not once did a television screen go on (I don’t think they had one, actually). Not once did we allow ourselves a chance to be distracted. Instead we shared and debated and learned from each other. It was my version of heaven.

The inspiration only continued on Saturday when we met a friend and walked down to the Lausanne market. We picked up goods for the dinner we were making that night (Tarte Flambée or Flammekueche, depending on your heritage), one of the most important being cheese.My friend tried to acquire this cheese no less than 4 times before succeeding. (It should be noted there were cheese stands throughout the market, but the best cheese purveyor had quite the line in front of him most of the day. Finally, the line died down and we were able to purchase… what can I say… you have to love the French and their love of quality ingredients.)

We spent the afternoon walking through the Olympic Museum Park, then along Lake Geneva, again talking, sharing, connecting. Then the friend returned for our dinner, and we spent my last night in the city debating our profession and other highly important topics (which I honestly can’t remember, but I’m sure they were important).

Olympic Park
This is a view of the Olympic Park. You can see the flame in the middle which burns year round. The lake in the background is Lake Geneva.
Tarte Flambee with onion
One of the two we made that night. This was the more traditional recipe.

When I woke up on Sunday, I was sad to be leaving, but I was also happy in realizing I had learned my lesson, and because I was much more invested in manifesting a great time in Switzerland, a great time was had.

I said goodbye to my friends at the train station while sincerely hoping to see and talk to them again soon. I then turned into myself, considering the month ahead in Lisbon… but that is for another post.

Regret, Awe, and Being Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I enjoyed delicious treats:

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

I saw loads of local street art:

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

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

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

All this, and still I’m regretful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A European Arrival

I did it. A year ago I set the goal of traveling and working from Europe, and it is happening! Part of me wants to say I’m not quite sure how I got here, but the other part of me recognizes this instinct as the false feminine modesty which I’ve learned to don over my life time.

In truth, I know exactly how I got here. I recognized a desire, I put a plan into action to see it through, and then I methodically carried out that plan.

The first step was figuring out how to create a larger financial runway in case I wasn’t able to make money while traveling (NOTE: I’m aware and grateful that I have been able to work and make money the entire time I’ve been traveling).

The next was in minimizing my material goods in order to travel light. Then I tested out a life of travel in my home country, and now… here I am, writing to you from a friend’s apartment in Budapest.

My arrival in Europe has been emotional and hectic. Still, I find it amazing that one can go from having beers with a friend in lower Manhattan…

Lis and Clewi holding beers
Clewi and I have a beer in downtown Manhattan.

to, only 20 hours later, having a Danish danish and coffee in Copenhagen.

Danish and a coffee
A danish and a coffee… mmmmmm

I love this phenomenon I notice when traveling. I think of it as the demystification of time and space. I feel outside of time in these instances, and I can’t help but chuckle at how much faith we put into something (i.e. time) that can so easily be altered and manipulated. This thinking is probably a large part of the reason I can travel and work and live the way I can… but that for another post.

When I arrived in Copenhagen after only a few hours of nodding off on my red-eye flight, I was somehow ready to go. Mind over matter, I suppose. Luckily, my friends had been in the city for a few days and knew the lay of the land.

We strolled through beautiful gardens:

cemetery garden
A cemetery garden in Copenhagen.
tree against blue sky
Taking a moment to look up.

We hit up a stationery / book store (NOTE: my favorite!) where I saw some fun signage.

Sign
I thought this sign was fun.

I learned how much the Danes love hotdogs, and was able to secure several of this signature dish.

Danish hotdog
A Danish hotdog

We ventured to Reffen, a street food market made of shipping containers and deliciousness.

shipping container
Container art
Pork roasting
Pork roasts over the coals.
Brewery on the water
This brewery scene is what I pictured Copenhagen being like.

We even snagged a walking tour the next morning which enabled me to basically understand the gist of Copenhagen (NOTE: This included stories of the many fires and rebuilding from them. It also included palaces, ports, and more pastries):

Lis against brick wall
I had to grab at least one picture while on the walking tour.
Copenhagen harbor
The famous harbor

Then, about 30 hours after my arrival in Denmark, I was gone. Yet again I put time on pause and flew to Budapest. We landed here late Sunday night, and I have spent much of my time working just like any other week of the year.

I have been able to get out a time or two to take in some culture though.

statues
Budapest welcomes me.
Budapest building
A building in downtown Budapest.

It was when I paused while making my normal breakfast the other day that it all hit me. I’m in Europe. Holy shit, my plan actually worked! I swelled with joy, pride, and gratitude. I’ve been carrying that gratitude with me and dwelling in it ever since.

I’m unsure what the next month or so in Europe will bring. I’ve given myself permission to either love it or hate it or both. I’m sure I’ll find some amazing times and some not so great times.

I think the important part is to be present and honest through it all. After-all, by doing so I make whatever I find here my own.

AND, that is what this journey is all about.

On Loneliness and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

On a Rainy Day in Zion

I write to you from Springdale, Utah (NOTE: This is the 38th state I’ve visited! Only 12 more to go!). I’m sitting at the Bumbleberry Inn nestled in the mountains of Zion National Park. Allow me set the stage for you:

Hotel room bed
The bed from which I write to you.
Rain and mountains
The view from my window.

I meant to be hiking during this time, but considering the amount of rain pattering outside, I’m inside writing instead. It’s ok, though. I like the writing as much as the hiking.

In all honesty, I’m conflicted about what to write today. I WANT to write to you about my Albuquerque to Oakland road trip and about how it’s been up to this point. I want to tell you all the growing and learning I’ve done along the way. I also want to share the pictures of the amazing sites I’ve been graced with, and I’d like to tell you the stories of the people I’ve met. But, I can’t do it.

Trust that I WILL share all of this with you someday soon, but know that now, as I write to you from this rainy place, I realize I want to write about those things because they are easy to write about. I also see I NEED to write about the hards things right, for this is a life practice have ignored for far too long. So, writing about the hard things wins out today folks. Here goes.

When I left the East Coast less than a week ago (I write to you on February 14th. I think this will go live a week or two from now.), I left with a heavy heart. As I spent the next few days in New Mexico packing and preparing for the road trip, the weight didn’t lessen. Curious, I reflected back over the past several weeks and recognized I’d been existing in a somewhat depressed state.

For example, I saw that when I looked toward my trip to Europe this Spring, I felt no tingle of excitement. When new (and amazing!) work opportunities were presented to me I saw them as chores instead of fun challenges. When others asked about my journey, I shrank back from sharing it. During these reflections, I saw how inward facing I had become.

As I brought all of this to mind, I also remembered a discussion I had with a friend while in NYC. He was worried about my lack of direction in this current journey, and frankly so was I.

Hell, why don’t I just say it… so AM I.

I should note that this lack of direction is not new. I realize to many of you who know me this may seem inaccurate. I probably seem very sure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I assure you, this is very much not the case. I’ve said it before. I’ve spent my entire life building the person I think I should be, instead of accepting and loving the person I am. (NOTE: I think alot of us do this. I know I’m certainly not alone in it. Anywhos, back to the story.)

All of these reflections continued to weigh on me. Then, yesterday as I was driving the 4.5 hours from Gallup, NM to Page, AZ, I could take the weight no longer. I started offing it at the Navajo Nation Museum. There I did something I’d never done before. As I walked among the artworks, I stopped in front of each one and asked myself, “How does this piece of art make me feel?” Funny enough, I even answered myself too!

I’m embarrassed to say it, but this self talk was new to me. You see, when you’re busy making a life you think you should have, you don’t ask yourself what life you actually want very often, or at all. Instead, you observe what makes other people happy and try to use those things to make you happy. But.. you never ask yourself if you’re actually happy. Doing so would be sacrilegious! The jig would be up!

Needless to say, I felt a little lighter when I left the museum.

I got back into my Subaru, Liam, and continued the trip. Through mile after mile of reservation land, I noticed small shifts. Instead of listening to music or podcasts the entire time, I took breaks to think. During these breaks I asked myself questions and when I couldn’t come up with answers I sat with the emotions and frustrations.

All of this helped to ease the weight a tad bit more.

Later that evening, I opened up to another friend about everything. I shared with him, quite unwillingly, how lost and lonely and WRONG I’ve been feeling. I also shared with him my reflections from the day; the biggest being me realizing this situation didn’t happen to me. I created my own discontent through my false actions over the years!

I worked to not judge myself. I told myself that whatever I’ve done in my life it’s been to keep myself safe, and I haven’t hurt others in the process. The only real person I’ve hurt is myself… and I’m tired of DOING that. The weight is just too heavy.

For the next two hours, said friend broke down his own journey to me (yet again… thankfully he’s patient). He reiterated to me the keys to finding and loving ourselves which is the only path to releasing a life you think you should live, and gaining the beauty of a life you actually want. It’s the only true way to get rid of the weight I’ve been carrying.

The keys to doing this are so very simply in concept, but putting them into actions is “the work” that everyone keeps talking about.

Here are the keys to life happiness as explained to me by my friend. Hold on to your hat!

1. Practice acceptance
2. When you’re unable to accept, ask yourself “why” until you have the answer.

Easy, right?

Right.

I want to tell you I’ll be able to have a consistent practice of acceptance by the time I’m done with this phase of my journey, but I can’t.

What I do know is that nothing external can make this consistent practice happen. It doesn’t matter how spiritual the practice nor how beautiful the landscape it’s done in. It doesn’t matter how many interactions I have with strangers, nor how many fun facts I learn. I could take all the yoga classes and go to all the meditations in the world and it still wouldn’t guarantee a consistent practice of acceptance to lead me to self love.

This is what I considered as I drove the miles today; the knowledge that it is due to one thing and one thing only if I succeed in this self love endeavor. That thing is both the challenge and the reward. It is the question and the answer. It is the origin AND the destination.

Yeah, that thing is me.

No pressure.