This post was originally published in Sam Osbiston’s online publication Catching Life back in the Spring of 2017. It’s one I worked hard on and really enjoyed creating! I’m reposting here so that you too can enjoy it (hopefully).
As a young girl, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7, I made a bold statement.
I remember my two older brothers and I were arguing, and one of them made a comment condescendingly saying,
“When you grow up you’re going to be lazy and no good”.
I remember feeling weighed down by hurt and confusion. I didn’t understand why anyone who was supposed to love me would say such things. It is only as an adult I realize this is what others tend to do to the brave and wild. They go to great lengths to extinguish our fire before our flames can grow so large they get consumed by them.
Shockingly, my mother stuck up for me. In what felt like a rare moment I heard her say to me,
“No you’re not. You’re going to grow up to be a nice, smart young lady.”
At her words, I remember feeling a tightening around my soul. One that I knew wouldn’t do.
Confronting my mother’s statement, my small frame straightened and I announced,
“No I’m not, I’m going to be a wild woman!”
Wild? Did I even know what I was saying? Did I really want to be wild?
At such a young age, did I know that a song played across my spirit; one that would not be quieted by the everyday expectations of life? Did I know in order to feel a part of this world, to find an inner peace and calm, and to make a mark for myself and for all my kindred spirits, I would need to dance in full force to the rhythm of my inner song?
Was I aware of what dancing the dance would mean, and did I realize living a wild life would require me to stand alone in my truth?
In the time before I allowed my heart and soul to be tightly closed by mediocrity’s vice, yes, I think I did want to be wild. In fact, I think it was knowing these things deep inside the core of my being which made my child-self affirm my future so confidently.
Somehow, I still ended up falling into the grasp of the uninspired life. My dreams clouded and eventually merged with those of others. I found myself operating from a restrained, sensible, and disciplined place, one that had been made for me, instead of by me. While living this carefully constructed life, my persona eventually morphed into that image my mother described.
I most certainly did become a “nice, smart young lady”.
The song, however, still played.
It hummed along in the background throughout the empty successes, the ghost failures, and the misguided loves and heartaches. Eventually, I saw I had given up so much of myself to the conventional, I was left feeling void and drained, like a ghost roaming eternity in search of a redemption it would never find.
I needed to find my way back to Wild. I needed to dance.
I don’t think it was one moment or decision that prompted the dilation of my soul. Rather, I think my untamed heart freed itself slowly, jaggedly, and painfully, like ice expanding and breaking apart the rocky enclosure. One painstaking decision after the other led to the undoing of my sensible persona and the uplifting, and releasing, of my natural spirit.
Slowly, the traditions I held onto so loyally and so dearly began to break away. I started to see through them, past the place where their false core resided, through the thin, filmy residue of the intentions that held them together, and into the heart of the lies they were built upon.
I began to confront my own false narratives which held together the fragments of the model citizen I had become. I stood face to face with my demons, and I broke my own heart several times along the way.
With each broken heart I realized how much I had stifled my own free spirit for the acceptance of others. I waded in the pool of the heavy pain and regret of these realizations. I berated myself for not being my true self, and basked in the guilt of wanting to let go of everything I had built to get away from my natural self.
I allowed life to tell me wild was ugly and outcast, but the more I worked to let the thick, sludgy venom of conformity drain from my soul, the more I began to see the pure, inspired beauty of a spirit so naturally expressing itself in the world. I saw a dormant flower of winter bud into a vibrant Spring blossom.
Truth be told, the further I went down the path less travelled, the further those I had relied upon proceeded down the well traversed path. As I stepped further along my road to authenticity, I saw the inauthentic friendships melt away. And, being honest, watching the happiness of the many while walking among the few caused so much doubt within me, the brilliant light center I had begun to operate from flickered and darkness began to move back in.
But, the song played on, and each time it came down to choosing between sitting this one out, or dancing the time away… more and more often I chose to dance. For I believe, in the end, the feeling of living my truth outweighs that of living the false ideal of others. And, in the end, I have fallen madly, passionately, and deeply in love with a life that is lived purely from the heart.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
About 20 minutes into our pastoral walk, we came upon a farm.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been back in “The States”, more specifically back in Oakland, for two weeks. It feels really good to be in a familiar place; living in a familiar house with a familiar pet. All this familiarity means I don’t have to figure out the rhythms of my daily life. It means I can settle back in to where I was, and extend forward from there.
That’s one thing about being on the road that I haven’t talked about all that much; the having to start over in each place I land. Of course, I’m not starting entirely anew each time, but I am having to figure out all the simple things which I took for granted when I lived a more stationary life (i.e. morning/evening routines, knowing where the grocery store was, knowing how to use public transit, knowing the language!… you get the idea).
It’s been nice to not feel demoted back to the beginning and to be able to just live.
My first week back I was diligent about being kind to myself and letting myself recover, physically, mentally, and emotionally, from traveling halfway around the world.
When the weekend came, I kept this “being kind to self” mentally at the forefront when I decided to honor the voices in my head that had been yelling at me to “Get to Walnut Creek!”
Walnut Creek is a smaller town about 20 minutes drive from where I’m staying. It’s quite a normal American city, and in fact when I told the Oakland homeowners I was trying to get there, they looked at me confused.
“Why Walnut Creek? There’s nothing all that special there.”
“No idea, but the voices are a-yelling to go.”
Before I took the short ride over the hills I decided to do some research on the area. I do this frequently. I search for the town on Google Maps, then will look around for places of interest. Finally I’ll save said places to my “want to go” list.
As I was investigating Walnut Creek in this way, I caught myself saving some pretty unremarkable locations to potentially visit: TJ Maxx, Walgreens, Whole Foods. Observing this behavior I thought to myself, Don’t you want to go on an amazing hike or wander the downtown area’s local shops instead?
My answer? Nope!
All I really wanted to do was run errands to some plaza malls in a car. It was a Saturday straight out of my American youth!
Noticing this thought, I saw why I was being called to the town. I was anchoring myself into a familiar day and putting aside the active “self work” for awhile.
It may sound silly, but putting the active work aside was scary! As I considered how my Saturday was playing out, I couldn’t help but hear the OTHER voices (yeah… I have a few in the old noggin. I’m sure you do too should you choose to listen.) asking:
Shouldn’t I be doing something progressive with my time?
Shouldn’t I be hiking or thrift store shopping or walking down whimsical streets reflecting on my life?
Shouldn’t I be working on being courageous?
Shouldn’t I be doing all of this instead of being the quintessential American consumer?
Instead of listening to these voices, I opted to trust my gut and do the activities that made me FEEL calm when I thought about them. (NOTE: I find the italicized voices above FEEL different in my body than the others. They cause me to feel more anxious, tightening of my shoulders and chest, versus feeling calm and expansive.) I also opted to sit with and accept that these activities didn’t seem all that glamorous, and that this was OK.
Looking back, I recognize that by taking this stance, I was, in effect, “doing the work”… but I digress.
It was scary to stop the active work because doing so felt like I was wasting time, being lazy, or being ungrateful for the life I have by not putting said life to use; none of which I want to be. Further, being inactive gave me the perception that all my progress would stop, be thrown away, and I would have to start from square one if I wanted to continue.
I reminded myself that the opposite of all these assumptions is true; stopping active work is very necessary in order to reach my efforts’ full potential.
If I’m always actively pushing forward, I’m not letting the knowledge and learnings I accrue absorb and ruminate in my subconscious. If I don’t let this below the surface work take place, I’m unlikely to manifest and realize the benefits in my conscious life.
NOTE: This is why savasana is so important at the end of yoga practice. It’s not just a time to lay there exhausted and elated that the pain is over. It’s a time to allow the body and mind to absorb the benefits and muscle memory to make the next practice all the better.
I think the hardest part of keeping all of this very important knowledge top of mind, and why I think I still have these anxieties about stopping the active work even though I KNOW the above evidence is true, is because the non-active work doesn’t always have an immediate, concrete outputs.
For example, if I run 5 miles 3 days a week and eat well for a few months, I see my body adjust. The results are not always so obvious with mental and emotional work. It’s not A + B = C like with the exercise and eat right example. It’s more like A + B = maybe bits of C, or A*2 = B – C, or B-3 = A*C…Ok I’m getting out of hand with the math examples; I’ll stop here.
The point is, I find it challenging because the outputs aren’t always apparent and immediately measurable.
That said, I did notice some results after putting aside the active work that Saturday. For most of the day, I felt an immense amount of gratitude for giving myself a break. My brain greatly enjoyed the reprieve from having to decipher and process and thus grew clearer. My soul was able to ease into a quiet night at home with a book I adored, and my body benefited from a restful and refreshing night’s sleep.
Can I be sure these were direct outcomes of giving myself a non-active self-work day? Honestly, I’ll never know. Was the ROI positive in the long term? I have no idea! However, now I can live with the discomfort of not knowing.
I also have come to realize that the results of my active work are STILL not concrete. My actions themselves are concrete, and they make me FEEL like I’m making progress, but if I actually stop and take a hard look at the process, the results remain as nebulous as my non-active work results.
In short, whether I’m actively working on myself or laying in savasana all day I’ll never know “for sure” if I’m “doing it right”.
With that said, I figure I may as well take a chance and look to reap the immediate, short-term benefits that I know will come from choosing to give myself a break when I feel I need one. I’ll take the warm, ease-filled feelings of giving myself permission to do something routine over the sticky weight of pushing “the work” forward any day.
At least that’s the choice I made that Saturday… and that’s enough for a start.
People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. ~ Thomas Szasz
I’ve been in Warsaw about 2.5 weeks, and during that time I’ve begun noticing the most glorious shift!
The change was subtle at first. It wasn’t really a consistent state of being like I often assume internal shifts will be. It was more a sensation that kept cropping up in the most random and ordinary of moments. Because of this randomness, I couldn’t quite decipher what the cause of the new feeling was.
After observing the ebb and flow of it a few times, I chose to sit with this new feeling for without distraction. It only look a minute or two for the understanding of what it represented to appear.
I saw how I was EXCITED and INSPIRED to simply be MYSELF.
This was the first I had felt this way in a VERY long time. I’d probably not even entertained this notion since I was a young child still lacking the influences of society. It was refreshing and freeing. Moreover, it was empowering and gave me hope.
Let me break down further what it was like to experience this feeling.
Recently my business partner and I started a social media campaign where we were trying to find specific companies we’d like to partner with.Unfortunately, we didn’t get many responses, and this outcome had me both worried and giving zero f*cks all at the same time.
The second point of view was something I had heard about, but didn’t remember ever feeling. So, I decided to examine it further.
When I connected with this ‘zero f*cks given’ side, I saw that not only did I not care what others thought about our campaign and its outcome (which was, my ego kept yelling to me, “playing out in real time for all to see!”), but I also witnessed myself receiving a great deal of fulfillment from posting information that was a direct reflection of our truth and hard work.
Other examples of experiencing the feeling included instances when I found myself walking outside in a foreign city with an air of confidence instead of a blanket of anxiety or visiting museums that maybe weren’t as popular but aligned with my interests or trying new foods based off a non-goal based curiosity.
Each time I took the stance of doing me and not caring what others thought, I felt SO DAMN GOOD!
I tried to attribute this new found self confidence to my friends, their apartment, and my staying in and around their energy. But, my friend, being the great person he is, wasn’t having it. He asserted, “Told ya, you’ve found yourself, this has nothing to do with Jack, us or Warsaw. Honored nevertheless!”
Then the thought hit me. Maybe he’s right? Maybe I HAVE, after a year and a half of this winding road, found myself?
These questions then forced me to ask: What the hell IS finding myself, again?
I reminded myself that I already had the answer, that finding yourself is the same as knowing yourself, and that ultimately it’s the process of unearthing what makes up the core of my being, then aligning my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with that core.
The results of this discovery process, no matter what term you use to label it (NOTE: I decided to go with the “finding yourself” terminology today because I wanted to uphold the original quote from my friend AND I wanted to point out that the labels don’t matter. The process is the process.), are an insane amount of joy, positivity, and sense of fulfillment.
It’s also about sitting still long enough to realize that I’m not “screwing it all up” by not being perfect. For example, a few weeks ago I read this inspiring article about a man who became location independent and found his work and life’s passions.
Instead of thinking “Damn. I’m nowhere near where he’s at. I must be a failure.” I thought “oh wow it took him a few years to figure out his travel too, and he had someone with him helping! I can DO THIS!” I gave voice to my inner self who knows I’m on this journey for a reason, and quieted the part of me that aligned with the naysayer forces who tell us going your own way is wrong.
After patiently, and consistently, coming back to these seemingly small practices, I do believe I’ve found myself. At the very least, I’m off to a damn good start.
But, be warned! There are some major drawbacks to this self discovery journey. As I was made privy to these early on in my quest, it’s only right that I share these realities with you. Here goes.
One of the first disadvantages of finding yourself is, well, I’ll just say it; it’s losing others. You’ll start to figure out that the people you have around you are a direct reflection of who you are today and who you’ve been. Some of them may be willing to come down the road of self-growth with you. Many of them will not be.
Sometimes this will mean ending or letting go of relationships and friendships. Other times it means the relationships shift. Whatever happens, to think that you can go through these intense growth moments and have the people around you remain the same is just not realistic. I recognize this is a REALLY hard concept to accept, but I assure you it’s true. The sooner you sit with and accept it, the easier it will be.
Further, because you are doing so much work on yourself and changing in the process, you may find frustration with other people around you (friends or strangers) who simply “don’t get it”. Remember they have chosen to not do the same work for their own reasons, and to expect others to be where you are is also unrealistic. Much patience will be needed in this regard.
Finally, you may also find you become frustrated with or ashamed of yourself for wanting to stray from the pack. I’ve often caught myself thinking: Why can’t I just believe in what they believe in? Why can’t I just be normal? I have to accept this discomfort and learn to love myself through it.
All this to say just because I work on myself I don’t think I’m “better” or “more evolved” than others, nor should I view myself this way. It just makes sense that if I engage in self work I’m going to turn out different. The more I strengthen myself, the less energy I will be putting towards holding up others. That just is.
I have witnessed this dynamic time and again. My dear friend has been working on himself for far longer than I. In fact, his lifelong self-discovery efforts have not only guided, but have inspired me. For years he would say, “Don’t try to be like me, yo. People won’t like you. You’ll see things differently and won’t be able to have conversations like you can now. You’ll be isolated and alone. I don’t recommend this path.”
He told me this out of love. I saw his life and path, and I still see it today. People are intimidated by his self knowledge and belief in himself. They feel attacked by his very plain, matter of fact demeanor, when he means no ill-will towards them. He’s just so certain of himself, while most of us aren’t, that being himself forces others to see how much of an act they are putting on. When people are faced with their own facade (I say this from experience) they can’t accept their own actions, so they take out their self judgement onto him.
By being himself so completely, he’s not bending towards others as we’ve been taught to do. This lack of bending is what others take to mean he isn’t a good, caring person. Fact is, he cares, he just doesn’t show it in the societally defined way anymore. He shows it in his way.
Obviously this isn’t a fun place for him to be. In addition, and this is something I’ve begun noticing for myself as well lately, by him living a life without distractions everything is REAL. He can’t NOT see the reality of how a situation is playing out. Others think he is being all-knowing, but in reality he can’t turn the reality off! He’s often saying “I wish I could go back into the matrix and be ignorant of it all. I long for that bliss.”
In short, the consequences of deep self work are just as real as the benefits.
Now you may be wondering: Why would I want to do this work if it means setting me apart from others in my life?
Frankly, you may not want to… and that is OK! All of this is 100% your choice. My friend told me time and again not to follow his lead, but I didn’t feel I could turn the tide and stop! I needed to find myself.
I needed to do this because of how genuine, aligned, and purposeful it makes me feel. I feel sheer bliss in knowing and living my truth. I know that by doing this I can be a better help to those around me and contribute more to the world. Plus, having less people in my life doesn’t mean I end up alone, it just means I have fewer distractions. Those people who align with who I am are still around, and our relationships are stronger than ever (despite sometimes very necessary hard conversations).
Thus, I’ve made my decision to go ahead with working on myself and living my truth. But, again, that’s my decision. You need to ask yourself if the results are worth it to you (a question of self discovery in and of itself, btw). If they aren’t and you don’t opt out of the work, that’s a perfectly acceptable and applaudable answer.
“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.
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.
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:
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.
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?”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Then hangout for a bit with friends such as these:
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?
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.
“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?
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.
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?
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!