Keeping It Simple to Find My Bliss

Several weeks ago I had the honor of being a guest on The Simplifiers Podcast where I spoke with host, Mary Baird-Wilcock, about my life as a digital nomad. The best part was halfway through when I realized how I have lightened my load to expose my bliss.

The Simplifier Podcast – How to become a digital nomad
During the interview I saw how simplifying my life helped me reconnect with my bliss.

The Story of the Interview

As many of you know, a few months ago I was staying in the East Mountains of New Mexico. While there, my dear friend sent me a link to the podcast suggesting I apply to be a guest. I doubted having any expertise on simplifying, but after following the universe for the past few years, I trusted that her suggestion was not a coincidence.

When I was accepted as a guest, I was terrified. What if I’m not up to the caliber of the other guests?, I thought. I decided it wasn’t for me to judge; if the people who created the show thought I was good enough, then I was good enough.

The time came for the interview, and I was elated to be back on the mic. What I didn’t know was just how much I would learn about myself.

The Big Realization: Lightening the Load

The a-ha moment came when Mary shared her story of her family’s move from their large home in Austin, Texas to their more cozy home in the United Kingdom. She described the process of decreasing the amount of material stuff they had so that they could move across the ocean and comfortably live in a much smaller space.

At this point, we connected on how intimate and HARD the process of lightening our material load is. As I reflected on this later, I noted how I think this feeling has a lot to do with our western culture. From my experience, many of us have come to define ourselves based on our material possessions. For example, I’ve definitely thought things like, “If I have a nice, big house with the perfect blender, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, etc, well then I’m a successful adult and a great person.”, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Our line of conversation led me to later reflect even further on how every time when I’ve let go of/donated/sold my material belongings, I reconnected with a feeling of pure bliss.

Of course, before the bliss appears I also grapple with a deep sense of fear and shame that makes me reconsider my material shedding. However, each time I push through and let go of the material, I just feel SO GOOD.

I see now that it is this feeling that keeps me going.

Examining the Load

The only conclusion I can form in regards to why this feeling of bliss appears is that there is a weight that having excess puts on me. Whether that excess is material stuff, mental clutter, or emotional baggage, as I left go of it, I clear the clouds that cast shadows on my happiness with simply being myself.

This process of releasing the excess, and the weight that comes with it, is critical to simplifying most anything. And simplifying everything is critical to owning our lives, hearts, and minds.

Why Lightening the Load is So Critical

What I find is that if I carry stuff that I either don’t need or that doesn’t bring me inherent, deep-seated joy, carrying the weight itself becomes my focus as opposed to living my best life from my core.

Roll with me on this. Those of you born before, say, 1985; do you remember the song “The Distance” by a band named Cake? (If you don’t you’re probably better off). For years that song has been in my head (NOTE: this involves a long story that you should ask me about one day over a beer).

While I was thinking about this simplifying topic, I FINALLY understood the song’s meaning. The man in the song is constantly striving or “going the distance” instead of focusing on what he already has in life. He gets weighed down in trying to “go home with the cup”, and misses out on just being. Going the distance becomes his goal, not living his best life.

Another Example of Excess Weight

Here’s another example of excess mental weight clouding our bliss.

I recently finished reading the novel, Siddhartha (thanks for the suggestion, Aaron!).

Towards the end of the book the title character, now an old man, meets his childhood friend, Govinda, in the woods. The two started their journey towards self-joy together, but their paths diverged as young men with Siddhartha going his own way, and Govinda becoming a follower of the Buddha.

Now much older, Govinda says to Siddhartha “Certainly I am old, but I have not stopped seeking. Never will I stop seeking, this seems to be my calling. You, too, it seems to me, have been a seeker.”

Siddhartha corrects him, denying he too is a seeker, then says:

“When someone seeks, then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.” ~ Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

Siddhartha has spent a lifetime understanding, then releasing unnecessary weight, like seeking. By letting go of the striving he set himself free. He is content and happy in being and can take on whatever the world brings at him.

How Going the Distance Gets Me Nowhere

Acquiring physical, mental, and emotional weight through excess material belongings, thoughts, or feelings, is a form of striving… of “going the distance”.

But here’s the thing about striving: “If you strive, you never arrive”, nor do you thrive.

Consider these definitions of Striving versus Thriving.

“Striving is the battle to achieve some external marker of success. Thriving is the internal capabilities and conditions we create for ourselves to grow, prosper and flourish.”

I liken the concept “striving” to that of carrying excess weight because to me striving is about acquiring something outside of myself in order to be happy. An example would be me thinking, “If only I had a Vitamix my life would be different.” or “If only I had X client I would be all set.”

It short I’m looking outside of myself for the answers to my life’s purpose. When I do this, finding an external answer becomes my goal, and I fall further and further out of alignment with the core of my being.

On the other end, Thriving is to know our unique gifts and talents and to use them to do well and multiply in a way that attracts the attention of others. Thriving is to have impact, to use our gifts to serve another. When we set out to thrive, we carry our ability to do well with us, we can take it from one career to another, we can continue to thrive in retirement. Thriving is internal, who we are, not what we’ve recently achieved.”

Removing the excess weight and reconnecting to my bliss… I believe this is the spark of thriving.

Does This Mean I Shouldn’t Try?

All this thinking had me thinking. I asked myself, “Does this mean I can’t find bliss or be happy if I’m striving or if i have excess stuff?”

Since this is a quote filled post I ask you to, again, consider this:

“So many people live their life in pursuit of happiness. They are Striving but never arriving. For a moment just close your eyes and think about the opening sentence, ‘so many people live their life in pursuit of happiness’. If you live your life like this in pursuit of happiness you will never find it. It will always be ahead of you. You are always chasing happiness. You are always pursuing happiness. Happiness is always ahead of you.“

Releasing whatever additional weight you have, mental, emotional, physical, whatever it is… that’s when you tune into the present moment, to the bliss of your life. It’s how happiness is within you and not ahead of you.

Scratch that, it’s how you see the happiness what exists within.

Making a Meaningful Life, Even When Life is Meaningless

Once I accept the hard, scary fact, that my life is meaningless; that striving to find the meaning I thought was bestowed on me from birth is really a distraction from the fact that I’m just passing time here on Earth, I own that I am the only one responsible for how I choose to spend my time. From here I can make a meaningful life, even when life is meaningless.

My friend has been saying for years that life is meaningless. He subscribes to the philosophy of existentialism. This is a philosophy I’ve always agreed with, at least cognitively. But, it wasn’t until recently that I was able to really feel the entire concept fully throughout my body and soul.

While Lying in Savasana

I was lying in savasana, relaxing after an intense yoga practice, when a thought reappeared. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to let the thought glide by like a cloud, but this time I couldn’t.

I say ‘reappeared’ because I’ve had this thought before. Thing is I usually don’t give it air time as it’s far too scary to process. But, for some reason I was ready. So I gave in, let the thought fester, and allowed the visions to unfold.

I saw my travels spread out before me. I observed how things really didn’t change much in different places. I didn’t change much. Thus it didn’t matter where I went. I could travel around the world and back, and my life was always going to be what I made of it.

I lay there with the simultaneous emptiness and empowerment these visions filled me with. I actually embraced how alarming this realization was.

After a few more moments of allowing these thoughts, visions, and feelings to take root, I saw that in the core of my being all I’m really doing on this planet is passing time.

I always thought there was some grand story I was playing out, or that I was en-route to finding a predetermined purpose to evangelize, but that day I understood. There is no grand scheme. There is no greater purpose. I’m just here until I’m not.

Facing the Fear

Yeah, scary, I know.

Once I sat with the realization without trying to negate it with my usual defensive thoughts like “No, I have purpose! I’m here to help my friends and family live a happier life.” or “No, that’s ridiculous. Obviously there is a bigger script I’m playing out!”, the most amazing thing happened.

I felt an immense amount of freedom. A burden was lifted. I was back in the driver seat.

Rainbow over Hood River Oregon
The reward after the storm.

Choosing Joy

Roll with me on this one. If life is meaningless and there’s no script I’m supposed to play out, it really is entirely up to me to define my life. In this case, there is no reason for me to define that life based off of trying to create a narrative that feeds my and society’s ego. Why live life for anyone or anything else? It’s my life!

What I should do instead of trying to live according to some script (which doesn’t exist at least in this thought experiment) is choose joy in each moment. Why, because why not? Choosing sadness or angst don’t make me feel very good, and I’d rather feel good than bad.

Cat cuddled on a couch
Ron certainly chooses joy in each moment.

The Point of No Return

I won’t deny that I hesitated to really feel all of this. If I choose to focus only on joy in each moment, would I just be giving up, being lazy, or ensuring ultimate turmoil? Says the line of thinking that’s kept me in fear this long.

But, the feeling I had in that meditation was so crystal clear, I mean it went straight to the core of all that I am, that I knew my understanding of life had shifted and there was no going back.

Diving Into a Meaningless Life

I next decided to re-acquaint myself with existential theory. After some amateur research on the subject I found this principle which I think exemplifies what I felt that day:

“Authentic existence involves the idea that one has to ‘create oneself’ and then live in accordance with this self. What is meant by authenticity is that in acting, one should act as oneself, not as ‘one’s acts’ or as ‘one’s genes’ or any other essence requires. The authentic act is one that is in accordance with one’s freedom., ‘the inauthentic is the denial to live in accordance with one’s freedom. This can take many forms, from pretending choices are meaningless or random, through convincing oneself that some form of determinism is true, to a sort of ‘mimicry’ where one acts as ‘one should’.”

The idea here is that living an authentic existence, in this case living a life where I choose my own freedom and joy in each moment, is paramount to living a happy and peaceful life. Each moment has a purpose of finding joy, but there isn’t some overall predetermined purpose for my entire existence.

Anxiety vs. Joy

Let’s stop here for a minute. Take a breath, and think about what you just read. What if there was no purpose you were supposed to uphold in life? All you need to do is find whatever joy you can in each moment given the circumstances you’re in. That’s it.

Maybe I’m not here to, say, empower others, but only to smile instead of scream when the dog throws up on the rug (not that I’m speaking from personal experience).

The seemingly depressing part about this thought experiment for me is the idea that “my life has no purpose”. I, for one, have been trained since I was born to believe that my life should be purposeful, but I never stopped to question why that’s the case. I just know that when I think that my life is pointless, I feel not so good about it.

I learned that this angst is something called existential anxiety.

Here’s a further description of the term: “Whether referred to as existential angst, despair, or anxiety, the concept is the same: the idea is that life is inherently pointless. That our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, namely, that we all must die someday.”

Well, that’s depressing.

Until I found the opposite of this anxiety, existential joy.

Here’s some more about this more hopeful term: “Existential joy is the direct opposite of existential anxiety. The joy of being one with the world counters the feeling of being disconnected and isolated from the world. Existential joy is what helps one to transcend the kind of anxiety that is all encompassing.”

All this to say, if my life doesn’t have an overall, predetermined meaning, it doesn’t mean I can’t make a meaningful life. It just means that someone or something else isn’t in control of defining meaning in my life.

Snoqualmie Waterfall
Snoqualmie Falls

Making a Meaningful Life When Life is Meaningless

How do I make a meaningful life if life is meaningless? I’m glad you asked! This is where choosing joy in each moment comes in. Allow me to provide another example.

Recently I rewatched the movie Groundhog Day. Watching it after having these reflections and thoughts blew my mind.

Bill Murray’s character is stuck living the same day over and over again; a metaphor for modern day life. After battling his existential angst, he realizes that he is the only one who can bring joy and meaning back to his life, and he sets out to do just that.

He basically just starts doing things that bring him joy. He learns to play musical instruments. He starts helping others around him (which makes him joyful). He basically reflects then takes action on, what will make him happy in each moment.

Although he knows he is bound to a life of the same day over and over again, he chooses joy in each and every instance he can instead of succumbing to madness. He may not have control over the events of the day, but he does have control over how he views them.

For me, the big lesson I’m taking away from Bill and from my recent yogic reflections is that of choosing to opt in to being the master of my own domain. Life truly is what I make it (thank you DMX and Nas).

So, I’m going to work hard to choose joy in every moment. Because otherwise, what else is there but the passing of time?

"Lis" written in the sand
A name in the sand.

Always Take Considered Action

Many times I hold myself back, wallowing in the indecision between taking action or retreating. I see now that retreating IS taking action as it allows me time and space to consider how to move forward from my core. The answer then is clear, always act. In fact always take considered action. All this wisdom from two podcasts You have to love modern technology… am I right?

Weekly Wisdom Regarding Action

This morning I was listening to the weekly I Ching reading from Bobby Klein. In this week’s reading (I’m posting this in the future so excuse the incongruent dates) he stated: “It will not be to your benefit to exhaust yourself by pushing through an ego created obstacle. Here make a graceful retreat.”

snow storm Edgewood
Quite the scene for retreat.

This concept triggered a great fear in me. That fear is the outcome of not having a distinct answer to a long standing question I’ve harbored along this journey: “How do I determine when something is an ego created obstacle? Further ”How do I know when it is the right time to retreat or when it’s the right time to take action?”

What are the Tea Leaves Telling Me?

In this regard I find many of the self-growth teachings at odds with each other, and themselves. For example, as you may or may not know, I’m a devout listener of the Bruce Lee Podcast.

After a friend recommended it to me, I was taken in by the analysis of one of Bruce’s most famous quotes.

“Be Water, My Friend.”

The idea is that instead of trying to push through a boulder blocking my path, it benefits me more to act like water and take time to consider a way to, then take action on, flowing around the obstacle.

The very next episode of the podcast, however, instructs me to Take Action. Maybe you can see the conflict that arose within me?

How can I both be like water AND take action? Even more, how do I determine when to choose which stance?

Meow Wolf Robot - Sante Fe
Sometimes you have to take a minute, smell the roses, and consider.

Maybe, Just Maybe, There’s No Choice to Make

Coming up with this post is an example of one such moment. Sitting down to write it, I didn’t have any blog post ideas in my backlog. I was stuck. What should I write? Worse, I wasn’t motivated to write. Then the thoughts started.

Wouldn’t taking a nap be a better use of my time? Why do I need to write, anyway? Isn’t writing something I enjoy? Surely this is a moment meant to test my ability to persevere? But what if perseverance is retreating and napping?

I stopped to examine my thoughts. Without judging them or their intended actions as either good or bad, I asked myself how the different thoughts made me feel. I noticed how those that took me away from writing didn’t make me feel at all good or congruent. However, those that anchored me into the act of writing did bring a sense of congruency.

I like to feel congruent. It brings me great relief and joy to have my thoughts, feelings, and actions aligned. I considered what actions I could take at the time to increase my feelings of congruency. Thinking about writing felt good, but considering trying to write an entire post that day felt bad.

That’s when I remembered two bits of knowledge from author Ann Handley. First, in her book Everybody Writes she says “The More the Think, the Easier the Ink”. The idea being that the more you consider and develop your perspective on a topic, the easier it will be to write about it.

The second came from one of Ann’s recent newsletters. Her advice here was to start with writing just one sentence (after you are done thinking, of course).

I didn’t need to complete an entire post to take action. Thinking about and getting clear on what I wanted to write was action enough. So, I started going through idea after idea of what I could write about until one (this one) made me feel congruent. Then, just for extra credit, I wrote one sentence.

What Do I Mean By Feeling Congruent?

I think it’s worth talking about what I mean by this term “feeling congruent”. When congruent, I feel like I’m floating on air, and a breeze comes in to move me forward without much effort. All the while, without much effort, I’m taking in this amazing view. In short, I feel light, purposeful, and progressive.

This feeling comes not only from my actions aligning with how i’m thinking and feeling, but also with my reason for being. Everything is in tight alignment, and thus everything is working together which decreases the need for external effort.

Choosing Retreat

Another example of my incessant questioning of when to take action versus when to be like good old H2O, involves my current navigation of the wild world of online dating.

Recently, I’ve had more than a few interactions with men online which did not increase my faith in humanity. These along with related reflections had me asking myself: Should I keep going with this? Haven’t I endured and learned enough for a lifetime?

In short should I take action and continue or should I choose retreat?

I could have acted, pushed forward, tried to use my current methods to meet just one good guy to renew my faith, but these anxiety filled strategies forced me to ask myself: what were my goals here? When I first started dating online, I just wanted to know more about the world, but now I needed to integrate my learnings and reconsider my purpose.

Thus, I chose retreat. I pulled back to just think. I realigned with my why. I found congruence in my thoughts, feelings, and intended actions. After finding this congruence, I was better prepared to step back into the wild west, renewed with purpose.

Neon woods - Meow Wolf Santa Fe
Before traversing the dark wood, I needed to reconsider.

Retreat is Action, Action is Retreat

Here’s the thing. In both of these stories, I was “being like water” by holding back force and considering my best path forward, I would then take considered actions that helped me feel congruent.

That was the answer then! It’s not retreat OR act. Retreating is an active task of considering my path forward from which I take appropriate action.

I got you Bruce/Bobby… it’s both at the same time! Duh!

Always Take Considered Action

The answer then is to Always Act, but to do so with consideration and intention.

What this means is considering how and if my actions, no matter how small, will bring congruence. To decipher this, when I’m faced with the choice of action or retreat, I ask myself “Will this action contribute to a result (like thinking about what piece to write helps me write with higher quality and less effort) or will the action I’m considering just keep me distracted (like trying to write out an incongruent idea all in one day, which I’ll inevitably not want to publish)”.

These rounds of questioning always point me to an action. As long as the choice I make leads to consideration, I’m acting. If the action, no matter how small, fills me and aligns with my goals, that breeds confidence and courage. Even Bruce agrees with me on this.

Accepting Not All Actions Have to Be Big

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” ~ Dale Carnegie

I think it’s worth another aside to point out that looking at great big boulders and trying to push my way through them is always distraction. Doing this breeds fear and doubt, and ensures I’ll never act.

However, accepting that not all actions have to be big, that in fact many of the impactful actions are small considered steps, I can be like water. I can choose a high quality action that empowers me to make MY way around an obstacle while keeping my soul intact.

Santa Fe Brewing Sign
If I’m being honest, this action is never a bad one to take.

The Choice is Not Binary

After sitting, thinking about, then writing this piece, I’m changed. I used to feel despair at the thought of, and in the presence of this question, but now I feel empowered with a universal answer.

Always act.

It’s not a binary choice. All I need to do is remember that considering an action IS acting. Thus, taking action is always the path forward. The practice being to act consciously and choose congruence.

The next time I’m faced with this dilemma, I won’t fret. I’ll ask myself, what action will give me the confidence and courage to take further action, and which of those make me feel congruent. I’ll take a moment, listen for the answer, then I’ll act, stepping boldly into it.

Then… I flow.


My Journey is My Destination

The reality of self work and progress is that it’s not linear, nor final. This is what I mean by the term: The journey IS the destination. This voyage architecting my best life never ends because there are always more updates that can be made. Instead of striving for some final destination, my best life is lived moment by moment.

When I take this premise a step further, I’m reminded that if I find that my journey has ended, and that I’ve gotten comfortable with my life and the people around me such that I’ve stopped questioning, that’s when I should have cause for concern.

To exemplify these thoughts, I’ll share with you a recent memory of a memory that made my knees buckle and brought me to tears.

The Memory of A Memory

It was December in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I was warming up lunch in the kitchen when the sensation that I was in a different time and place came over me.

Front Patio of a New Mexico house along my journey
The front patio of the house where the memory of the memory went down.

I stopped what I was doing, turned off the stove, then stood still for a second and shut my eyes. The moment that returned was one of the most simple, but impactful, of my life.

It was just about 12 years ago in early Spring. At that time, I was in the process of leaving San Antonio, Texas to move to Manhattan. Living in New York City had always been a dream of mine, and I was finally ready to make said dream a reality.

Before I could do so, I had to say goodbye to the life I built in Texas. Though I only lived there for three years, those years were some of the most important of my life.

During that time I started my career, made amazing relationships, and proved to myself that I could build a life away from the home I’d always known. But, despite all of these factors, I was certain I had yet to reach my potential. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to do so in SA Town (much as I loved it).

The memory is one that always makes me sad. In it, a work friend and I were walking to our cars after my last goodbye party (I had many, hehe). He stopped, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Always remember. A good day in New York is a great day, but a bad day in New York is the worst. And… You can make it through anything.”

I recalled how, as he was saying these words, I could barely lift my eyes to meet his gaze. When our eyes did meet, I remember looking away from him as quickly as I could, fighting back tears. Then, we said our “goodnights” and “see ya tomorrows”, and I got into my car.

The Song of My Journey

When I turned on my car radio, the song came on; one of my favorites of all time. The refrain cut through me, its vice-like grip holding me in that San Antonio parking lot.

And I know I could look at anyone but you now
I could fall under the eyes of anyone
But you now, now, now, now
This is a list of what I should have been
But I’m not
This is a list of the things that I should have seen
But I’m not seeing
I’m just turning away from where I should have been
Because I am not anything…

The amount of shame and fear I felt when those words belted through my speakers overwhelmed me then. I remember my mind starting to unravel with thoughts like: What was I thinking leaving such a comfortable and wonderful life behind? What if I didn’t succeed? What if I was being ungrateful for throwing it all away!?

In present day, I had forgotten about lunch. Instead, I went to the living room, found my computer, opened YouTube and typed the song into the search engine.

I again started playing it, letting it, and all the memories and feelings that came along with it, surge through me. Re-living the angst, I fell to the couch crying uncontrollably.

I’m Still Not at The Destination

After a few moments I asked myself why the tears? Why was this memory still impacting me so?

My response was disheartening. It was because I still didn’t believe I’d reached my potential; my destination. I saw that I was still, after 12 long years, not “there”. I reasoned that if this was the case, maybe my leaving really WAS the biggest mistake of my life. Maybe I was a failure.

The Journey Is the Destination

It took a few moments of gasping for air and of reflection and self questioning, to see that no, leaving wasn’t a mistake. If I had stayed, I would not have stepped fully into myself as I am now aiming to do. I would have remained comfortable, yes, but stagnant.

That’s when I remembered: The Journey is the Destination. There simply is no “there” to get to; no finality to the journey. Instead each moment IS what I have been working towards, and each moment is what I need to make the most of.

I’ve written about this topic a time or two, and bringing all these facts to light again reminded me that I’m not a failure for not having yet reached my perceived destination.

Rather, the realization was seeing that if I settle into a comfortable state of being, a “there”, that’s when I should be worried.

Wait… What Did I Just Say?

Am I saying that settling into a comfortable life (whether that be made up of a partner, family, community, place, etc) is negative? Do I think building that kind of comfort into life means I failed?

Not. At. All!

It isn’t the building of comfort into my life that I think is problematic, but merely the letting go and forgetting to continually question and tweak my life that can be the issue.

This is something I didn’t really learn until I took all the distractions out of my life. Before I took the time to question who I am and what my beliefs are, then align my actions with those pillars, I took the easy road. This meant walking the path of those before me and assuming it would lead me to happiness (Spoiler alert: It didn’t).

I now see that questioning and even a healthy dose of self doubt which leads to questioning is one of the structures that enables me to architect my best life. Along with that questioning is continuing to tweak my actions to align with what’s truly best for me.

This process is the definition of architecting my best life.

Keep Questioning, Keep Tweaking

If I stop continually questioning and aligning aspects of my life, and instead choose to succumb to the fear which keeps me from digging deeper, I will never pull back the curtain to show me what needs fixing, nor will I ever conjure up the courage to make updates to improve my well being.

Those matters that need fixing may be the people I choose to spend time with, the activities I choose to partake in, or the thoughts I choose to believe, but whatever the curtain may be hiding, if I don’t pull it back and see the issues for what the are, the underlying issues that keep me from my full potential will remain.

Not only will they remain, but they will fester and expose themselves at the most random times. I feel not in control of my own life, and allow myself to become a victim of my own demise.

The hardest part is pulling back the curtain, because once I do, the issues can no longer be ignored. In fact, my inability to ignore the discontent with my life is exactly why I left SA Town all those years ago.

The Best Part

The most beautiful part about looking at whatever is behind that curtain is that, once I do, and once I investigate my feelings and resistance, I free myself up to see new ways forward, and I invite new and more fulfilling energies into my life.

The desert landscape of this Las Cruces destination.
Seeing what else is on the horizon…

In fact, after I unearthed my reasons for tears that day in Las Cruces, it was as if a 500 pound weight I’d been carrying with me for 12 years was released. I think about that moment in the parking lot now not with sadness or regret, but with confidence and knowing.

I know who I was and wasn’t then, and I know why I stepped on to the next part of my journey.

With this confidence in mind, I also am reminded to keep on walking, because if I stop, I stop truly living.

And… I kinda like living; moment by moment.


Living Brave by By Being Myself

Young women need to realize that being brave is in their DNA, and living brave is something this world doesn’t support. ~ My mentor Jeffrey

I see now that living brave often times means living my individual truth. However, living individually is an experience my humanness doesn’t support.

From this conflict I find that I have two choices. One, stake a claim on my individuality, which, though isolating at times, feels really great throughout my being. Or, two, teeter on the edge of my identity which resonates as feeling weird, sticky, and wrong.

When I have this choice before me, it’s of utmost importance for me to live brave, choosing to stand in my uniqueness. These choices are, after-all, the moments when I am chiseling myself out of the stone of ordinariness, and thus defining who and why I am.

I’m Brave… Huh?

Recently, I traveled from Xalapa, Mexico to Las Cruces, New Mexico. My first few days back in the States, I participated in a Mini-Retreat with 4 (quite amazing) business women and friends.

Over dinner one night, one of the women commented on how brave she thought I was to be on this journey. It was funny because even after a few years of working on myself, I noticed how her compliments were hard for me to internalize.

It’s true. It’s taken me a long time to start to own that my journey is unique, and to begin to celebrate it as such. For most of this time, I’ve seen what I’m doing as simply living my truth, and, being honest, that really hasn’t felt all that brave.

Most times when I’ve thought about my life, I’ve felt ashamed… outcast. It is only in recent months I’ve begun to TRY to accept my actions at attempting to architect my best life from the core of my being as worthy. In addition, It’s taken me 37 years to see how truly hard doing such a thing is… and how sincerely brave.

An Example of Choosing the Great Feeling

Part of my recent travels from Mexico back to the US involved me having to face one of these important choices. I could hover on the edge of my truth, spending money to avoid perceived fear and discomfort, or I could go towards my fear, save said money, and ultimately step into my light.

When I thought about choosing the former, I felt disgusted and uneven. When I thought about choosing the latter, I felt coherent. (NOTE: for more details on the story check out my YouTube channel).

I chose to follow my truth and face my fear and discomfort. Sure enough, in the end I found had nothing to fear, and I was able to feel FREE by following my gut.

Then There’s the Not-So-Great Feeling

During the aforementioned mini retreat, I was delighted and inspired being around like minded women. But, during one of our adventures, the crude feeling appeared.

The five of us were in the White Sands National Monument and, while we were exploring and enjoying, I sensed something in me shift. As I watched and listened to the other women, I felt ashamed and outcast (NOTE: none of the ladies did anything to prompt these feelings (quite the opposite, actually)).

The instant was so poignant, it prompted today’s reflection.

I realize that the shift was due to me noticing my differences, but, instead of loving them, I pushed them away. I wasn’t yet able to own my uniqueness, and so the shame emerged.

What I believe those differences are doesn’t matter. The point was that I felt so very distinct and wasn’t yet brave enough to step into the contrast.

In fact, up until the writing of this piece, and the realization of this lesson, when I looked back on the photos all I see is that icky feeling:

Looking out over White Sands
White Sands sparks some internal reflection, no doubt.
Ripples in the sand
Ripples in the sand.
Shadows of three women against the white sands.
We are, each of us, different.

Why Feel Icky for Being Different?

Coming to this realization, I came face to face with my mentor’s point: living brave (i.e. living our truth) IS in my DNA, but it’s oh so hard to align with.

Why?

By owning how I’m different, I run the risk of not belonging, but as a human being I am wired for this belonging. Further, I am advertised to CONSTANTLY with information triggering my need to belong, and my fear of being an outcast, and these messages get through. They make it hard for me to step outside of the norm without fearing for my own survival.

So yeah the world doesn’t support me (or many of us) living brave by living our truths because, well, it’s bad for business. You can’t sell people who are brave as well as those who aren’t… but I digress.

My Fears Unearthed

I won’t lie, I had a hard time writing this post.

I now see I feared being outcast for writing these ideas. Alongside the fear though was this deep need to express SOMETHING in regards to my mentor’s quote above.

I believe this second sensation was the knowing that by writing this post and sharing my different ideas, I would be brave, stand in my truth, and find further congruence.

My higher knowing pushed me this way because it remembered how GOOD it feels not to pretend anymore.

Feeling Good By No Longer Pretending

In times like when I sat down to write this piece or when I was deciding about my travel or when I was realizing my differences in the desert…. these are the defining moments.

Going towards and then through that weird/gross/anxious feeling I have, IS “doing the work”. Not trying to make myself feel good, but accepting I don’t feel good and unpacking why.

Then by choosing myself in these moments, the real change happens. This is where I’m the most brave, where we can all choose to be brave.

If I succumb to the comfort of perceived belonging through similarity, if I try to belong instead of to be myself, if I don’t go through the awkward feelings and CHOOSE DIFFERENTLY, I hold myself back from being myself.

If all of this, then the cycle of self discovery, and ultimately self expression, is stalled.

How Can I Be Sure? I Can’t Be

How can I be so sure of what I’m saying? How do I know it’s all worth the risk?

I’m not.

What I do know is that living brave, so far, and making decisions that go against that gross feeling, has brought me the benefits I seek.

I also know that doing this is necessary for ME to architect my best life.

The Only Guarantee

It’s at this late hour when I realize I can practically guarantee myself I won’t belong to many of the people and situations I thought I belonged to (but really never belonged to) if I can continue my quest to choose my differences and live brave. But… I’m OK with this.

Fact is, at the end of it all I may not belong to the people I used to, but then again I’m no longer the person I was, and that is the entire point!

So yeah, the world doesn’t support living brave, but I don’t need the entire world’s support.

I just need my own. The world can follow.


On Manifesting (or Making Things Happen with My Mind)

Today I want to write about manifesting (or what I later define as “Making Things Happen with My Mind”), but I’m nervous. I wish to write about it because I’ve had recent success I think others can learn from, but I’m scared because I fear readers will either mentally check out or try to physically check me in at the first mention of this subject.

Maybe I need to find a different word because manifesting sounds too “out there”, “new age”, and, well, whacky. Perhaps an alternate word will make the topic more feasible?

Since I’ve been in Mexico for the better part of a month, I see no better place to start the search for this new word than with Spanish.

There’s a common word in Spanish, the verb “hacer”. This is the first word that comes to mind as a potential substitute for Manifesting. I’ll be honest, to my non-fluent ears hacer seems to be used in so many varied situations that I’m unable to describe its job properly. When I look the word up, however, the most common English translations are “to do” or “to make”.

That’s a good start.

Wordsmithing this a bit, I take the second translation “to make” and then add the word “happen” to the end. That feels a bit better.

The thing is, in my western culture when we talk about making things happen, we usually think of putting physical hard work and exertion in place. Manifesting is different.

Instead of exerting and pushing externally, much of manifesting happens internally. It’s about setting a goal, aligning energy, thoughts, and feeling with that goal, then letting go. Knowing this, dare I say that Manifesting equals making things happen with my mind?

But Wait! There’s Research (Kinda)

Ok, I’m not sure if this sounds any better BUT, maybe pointing out that there IS actual scientific research highlighting my ability to make things happen with my mind might help. In fact, this is the fancy quote from said research which gives me hope that I’m not insane when discussing this topic:

“It is able to represent more adequately than classic concepts the neuroplastic mechanisms relevant to the growing number of empirical studies of the capacity of directed attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function.”

Directed attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function doesn’t PROVE that making things happen with my mind is real, BUT it does suggest that directed attention alters how my brain works. From this I can hypothesize that maybe altering how my brain works changes how I act or don’t act when it comes to meeting my goals. And maybe this change in response is what manifesting is all about?

Maybe.

Either way, I’m counting the research as a first piece of evidence. The recent events which happened to me are what I count as a solid second.

Recent Event #1

The first event is a smaller one. A few weeks ago I was looking over my annual finances, and even though I’ve been doing pretty well this year, I noted how having one more small, non-intensive project to give me an extra influx of cash for the holiday season would be perfect.

Realizing I didn’t have the energy to push forward with additional business development or marketing to land said project, I took another approach. I set the goal of said project, imagined what having it would feel like, then let go.

That’s right, instead of churning and putting all my energy towards finding a gig, I simply detached myself from the outcome. I didn’t think about it, nor did I wish for it. I just let it be.

Several days later I received an email from a client I hadn’t heard from in years. They had a desire for a two week project that paid pretty well, and required little effort.

Reading this email I felt the exact same feelings I had envisioned. We were able to set the project up quickly, and in no time we were on our way towards extra cash (and making our client happy).

Yeah, success.

Recent Event #2

When I booked my travel to Mexico, I knew I’d be in the country for one of their biggest holidays, Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I greatly desired to learn more about the holiday while I was in Xalapa, and I longed to be part of the celebrations. My greatest wish was to talk to local people about how they celebrated and what the holiday meant to them.

Unfortunately, I knew zero people in Xalapa with whom I could celebrate. Instead of researching Day of the Dead meetups or expat groups or some other option, I chose to go inward. I visualized what I wanted, aligned with why I wanted it, and then let go.

A few days later, on the Tuesday before, I was in the kitchen of my AirBnb host. He, a Dutch man, was helping two of his long time Mexican friends to practice English. As a native speaker, I was invited to join.

Several minutes into our chatting, the wife of the pair said to me, “You must celebrate Muertos with us. Thursday we will take you to the center of the city. Then Saturday, you will come to our house to see our alter and eat with us. Sunday, we will take you to Naolinco, a very famous town for Muertos celebrations.”

I was floored. Right before me was an entire itinerary that met my original intentions, and all of it was created without one bit of grind and hustle on my part. To say I felt a little bit like I had superpowers would be an understatement.

Lis manifests herself in front of Xalapa letter sign.
While celebrating in the city center we stopped to grab evidence that I, indeed, was in Xalapa.
Lis in Xalapa in front of carpet alter on Muertos. Another manifestation!
Behind me you see a carpet. It is made of SAND! These are the traditional pre-Columbian alters seen during Muertos.
Alter in Naolinco. Manifested on my day with new friends.
An alter in Naolinco. This is the more modern form you see with offerings to the dead.
Lis in front of a giant Catrina in Naolinco. No better example of Manifestation.
I’m pretty excited to see this huge catrina (dressed up skeleton) in the middle of Naolinco.
Cortez catrina display. Made this happen with my mind... maybe?
This exhibition is put on every year with a different theme. This year’s theme marked the 500 year anniversary of Cortez’s arrival.
Catrina with a black veil and purple dress. Definitely made this happen with my mind.
This was by FAR my favorite catrina of the day. She was in a local pastry shop.
Lis on bicycle with Catrina in a tuxedo. Look, I manifested a groom!
It was a wild ride!
Naolinco letter sign. My mind brought Naolinco into being... kind of.
I love these signs.

Great examples, BUT how can I be so sure?

I’m the first to admit that the idea that I somehow made these things happen with my mind can seem out there. But, being that I actually LIVED these examples it’s hard for me to deny the premise completely. This conflict made it clear to me that further investigation was needed.

My first step was to look further at the idea that I had made these things happen with my mind. Sure, I thought that’s what I had done, but since I know that thinking something doesn’t make it true, I had to dig deeper.

To do so, I examined if and how others talk about the concept of making things happen with the mind. What research had been done? What results surfaced?

In my investigation, I found several resources which discussed the concept. These, coupled with the research I cited earlier AND with my own experiences further solidified my theory. (NOTE: I will, of course, continue to investigate.)

Another interesting finding was that many of these resources echoed my own experiences. For example, in each, having a clear vision of the goal and aligning with the feeling surrounding that vision was paramount to success. In addition, most of the resources also noted the importance of letting go.

Bringing Together My Investigations

I reflected on both of my alleged manifestations. In both, I set clear goals. In the case of the project my goal was to “have some extra cash”. In the case of celebrating Day of the Dead it was “to learn more about the holiday”.

In both I visualized what each of those outcomes would feel and look like.

In example 1, I saw myself landing a client quickly, felt the project being non-labor intensive and the client being highly satisfied, imagined myself having extra cash, and felt the relief that came as a result.

In example 2, I felt the joy of being seated at a table with friends and festive foods. I imagined myself in the midst of skeletons and colors, and felt the wonder of learning more.

Sure I didn’t know the details of these imaginings, but I could envision what they might feel like. I walked through these events as best I could. Then, when I got to the question of “How do I make this happen?” I did something REALLY IMPORTANT.

I answered, “I don’t know”.

Then, I detached myself from any results, and did absolutely NOTHING else.

I was STILL making something happen though.

The beauty of it all is that during this process I described: setting a goal, having clarity on how the outcome of the goal would feel, aligning with the feelings and letting them sink in, and then, most important, letting go of the result, I was in effect doing or making something happen.

The key was, I wasn’t pushing in order to bring my desires into being. In fact, I didn’t care about the outcome at all! Instead I was accepting my current state with or without the result, while knowing that IF my goals came to pass they would make me more whole.

“I’ve tried this before…”

Before these recent events, each time I saw an article on making things happen with the mind or “manifesting” I scoffed thinking, “I’ve tried this ‘manifesting’ before, and it doesn’t work”! Now, I see my error.

I tried.

In the past I put external effort to the forefront. I had checklists and action plans, and I clung to my end result. I found articles and instead of reading between the lines and finding my truth, I pushed until I checked off each and every step; never seeing the result I told myself I had envisioned.

During these times I blinded my clarity with desperation. Instead of letting go, I focused on grasping and needing things to happen.

I did this because letting go felt like being lazy or giving up, and lazy people aren’t worthy people. More, I desperately wanted to feel worthy of the outcome I desired..

I know now that letting go isn’t giving up. Instead it is giving the subconscious brain time and space to “direct attention and mental effort to systematically alter brain function.” It’s trusting instead of grasping.

And of course, Buddhism holds the key

When making things happen with my mind, there is action and effort, but as the Buddhist texts teach this effort needs to be “right effort”. Better defined here as:

“The most basic, traditional definition of Right Effort is to exert oneself to develop wholesome qualities and release unwholesome qualities.”

I need to set my goals (and make sure they align with making me more wholesome), align with how attaining them will feel, and let go (i.e. let go of the unwholesome qualities of pushing and grasping).

To me this is taking the right effort to bring wholesome actions from my internal thinking into my external world. This is making things happen with the mind, and I’m further convinced that it is 100% possible.

Making things happen in this way is much harder than following a plan or checklist. The latter includes social proof that others have succeeded. The former involves walking where there is no path, and this means little validation and even less knowing.

Walking my own path forces me to trust my beliefs, have faith in myself, and not concern myself with outcomes to prove myself to others.

It’s hard to walk such a path, but from what I’ve learned creating that path is not only possible, it’s half the fun.


Becoming a Wild Woman

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 have fallen for me, one hell of a wild woman.


Questioning Your Thoughts to Step Into Your Power

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

Yeah, I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, Universe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, fear brain!

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

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

Nothing. It turns out.

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

Bus interior
The bus ride was really nice!

The fear brain was almost silent at this point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Country farm
The farm we came upon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigate them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all starts and ends with me.

Now that’s power.


Ready for the Dark

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

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

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

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

I shook my head “No”.

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

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

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

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

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

In short, they’re not the easy days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double fail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time, I chose fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now… I know what you may be wondering:

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

No, I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Putting Work Aside and Making *More* Progress – A True Story

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.

Garden at the back of the cottage
It was a comfort to see the garden in bloom.
bougainvillea
The Bougainvillea welcomes me.
Chair on back deck with forest trees and sunlight peeking through.
The familiarity (and beauty!) of this scene didn’t disappoint.

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!”

Where?

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.

Formosa Mountain Dog standing
Fay herself was 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.

I’ve heard many times how my brain needs downtime to be it’s most productive at work. It was reflecting on this this weekend when I remembered it is the same with working on myself.

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.

Why?

Because I DO know how exhausted always actively working to find myself and be happy makes me.

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.



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