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.

Who Do I Want to Be?

I arrived here in Yuma, AZ Monday afternoon (I’m writing to you on a Wednesday), and was greeted by a lovely AirBnB experience. Here are some pictures to prove it:

Welcome Lis sign
I felt so welcomed by this sign!
Yuma like a local sign.
Instructions on how to do Yuma like a local.
Bed with pillows
After driving all day I couldn’t wait to get into this cozy looking bed.
Kitchen
Cooking in this kitchen reminded me of my time in NYC.

Let’s just say my choice in driving through the Santa Ana winds (and mountains) to make it here seemed a great one.

When I woke up on Tuesday, I decided to use the mid-morning hours as adventure time. I went to the post office to send a book to a dear friend, then I began driving around Yuma to see some of the historic sites. I was followed by the most uneasy energy I’ve felt on any trip thus far. (Except maybe when Cris and I stayed at a Hotel 6 in East Philadelphia on the East Coast Road Trip, but at least then I wasn’t alone.)

Little felt safe. I should say, little felt safe outdoors. When I interacted with people like the woman at the Post Office or the man at the coffee shop or my AirBnB hosts, they were all quite lovely. However, when I stopped at the city park or went downtown I felt nothing short of uneasy. Actually I was really scared.

I grappled with this fear. I shared it with others, and I also sat with it on my own. I questioned what is was I was actually scared of. Afterall, it’s not like these scenes are particularly scary:

Bridge and Mountains
I tried to grab a picture of the mountain views.
Church top and rock
A picture of the top of the Mission from Gateway Park.
Lutes Casino front.
Ok… this may look sketchy but it was in the cute old part of town.

It’s also not like I was in any real danger at any point. But yet, the fear remained.

As I worked through it, I began to see how its roots tangled themselves around my courage. I saw this, and realized how tired I am of being the scared person. If I wanted to become who I want to be, I needed to break said roots and allow my courage to take over.

So I took action. I took a walk around the neighborhood and noticed the cute houses, the school children playing soccer, and the man mowing a lawn nodding and smiling. My courage was growing, and it was encouraged on by this quote sent be a friend later in the evening:

As you think about your own path to daring leadership, remember Joseph Campbell’s wisdom: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Own the fear, find the cave, and write a new ending for yourself, for the people you’re meant to serve and support, and for your culture. Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and being afraid. At the exact same time. — Brené Brown, Dare to Lead.

Needless to say I slept quite soundly after sitting with these words.

When I woke up today, I decided on an afternoon hike a few miles outside of the town. I was set on having some time alone in nature to “sort it all out”. But, once again, I was denying entering the cave. Sure enough, when I got out to the trail, the road to the trailhead was closed. Further, my attempts to find another trail were also thwarted. I saw the sign. I needed to face my fears.

I came back to the town and decided to replay yesterday’s adventures, all the while facing down my fears and breaking apart their roots. It was an insanely healthy and progressive practice which led me to have a renewed view of my experience here. I saw myself becoming who I want to be.

Then I got the text.

One of my house sitting clients was inviting me back for a gig in the Spring. At first I thought, why not take it? I have nothing else planned?, but then something stopped me. I reached out to a friend who responded that they couldn’t make the decision for me, but if it was them, they’d make the decision based on “why they were on the journey to begin with”. Meaning, they’d decide not based off convenience, but off of who they wanted to be.

The words struck me with an unwavering truth. I’d have to turn down the gig and turn towards the unknown. If I didn’t, I’d be “delaying the risk I needed to take to become the person I want to be”, and keeping it real, I’m so of over doing that.