This past Christmas was different. This wasn’t only because I spent it with new friends in a new place. In addition to the location difference, there was a deep change within myself. Being honest, I didn’t know that change was what I was going to write about in this post, but, here we are.
What I wanted to write about was the immense amount of kindness bestowed upon me by my ‘host family’ this holiday season. I was going to tell you about the simplicity, ease, and caring that filled me on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Here I was, in the home of people whom I’d not met until a month earlier, celebrating the most familial of holidays, and feeling completely accepted and at peace.
During the day, I reflected on Christmases past. Most of these I had spent with my family in New York celebrating in our traditional ways. I thought about how closed-in that world of mine was. I recognized how growing up in small place with a large, tight-knit family sheltered me considerably.
I called my parents house early that afternoon, but they were quick to shuffle me off the phone due to a neighbor who was visiting. I noticed how my heart winced at this lack of attention. I then noticed how familiar that wincing felt.
My day continued on. I called it “The Lazy Christmas” because none of us decided to get out of our pajamas much before 3pm, and, even then, it was a stretch. I also saw it was a loving Christmas as I witnessed a mother, father, and daughter who all showed each other, and me, the utmost respect. I was grateful to experience their example.
I was also quite grateful for their hospitality as evidenced here:
After our usual enlightening and fun conversations, I made my way to bed. When alone in the room the thoughts and feelings of home again flowed over me, but this time with ever more sadness. I’d love to tell you the sadness was due to missing my family and our traditions, but it wasn’t. Instead I felt sad for not missing them much at all.
It is this feeling I continue to sit with and process despite decades of running. It is this feeling which I have been denying all this time.
Let’s see what happens as I finally face it, shall we?
I first learned of the town called Madrid, New Mexico from the homeowners of the house where I’m staying. From there the name kept coming up. Combine this with having driven through on my way to Santa Fe the week before, and I knew I had to visit. The Saturday before Christmas seemed the perfect time. After-all, there were a few more presents I wanted to secure, AND I figured some holiday cheer would be in the air.
I woke up early to feed the horses, and about mid-morning I made my way to the town. It was only a 45 minute drive, and, as I mentioned in previous posts, the landscape along the way was stunning.
Madrid is a small town, so parking wasn’t an issue. I found a spot in front of one of the shops, then began my walking adventure. For my first stop I, for some reason, walked into one of the local art galleries. I wasn’t in the market for anything there, but something drew me inside. It wasn’t long before I found out what.
As I was looking around the gallery, the man behind the counter began speaking to me. It turned out he was from Albany, NY. He and his wife (and now his adult children) are artists, and they decided to move to New Mexico to explore their art some 31 years ago. We exchanged war stories of winters back East. I asked him, and he told me, about his adventures in the West. Needless to say when I left the shop I not only felt full of good vibes, but I was reminded that I’m never really alone.
My next stop was at a place I had read about online, the Gypsy Gem. I was looking for some earrings for my mom, and this seemed the place to find them. When I entered the shop I was greeted by a young man in his 20s. He let me know to ask him for help should I need any, after which I began making my way around the shop.
Several moments later I found myself engaged in another full on conversation. This time I learned the young man had just moved to Madrid last month from Miami. He was having a hard time finding a job in sales there due to the tattoos on his arms and face, but a friend to him that his parents owned a shop here and would certainly hire him. They did, and here he was.
I also learned he was getting used to the colder weather. In fact, he was very excited to have purchased his first wood stove after learning just how expensive propane heat was. This young man’s stories touched me. Not because they were particularly endearing, but because I could very much relate to them.
I remembered having a hard time grappling with heating costs at my first post college apartment in Connecticut. I also remembered moving across the country to San Antonio, Texas due to a friend’s suggestion. It was like peering through a looking glass into the past. I shared with him my current journey which we bonded over, and, although I left the shop without a gift for my mother, my step was a bit lighter the rest of the day.
My step was not too light for an afternoon coffee however, so my next stop was the Java Junction. Note that I had to walk past this before arriving:
I was delighted to find they served and sold beans which were locally roasted in Santa Fe. I had yet to try any local roasts, and thankfully I was not disappointed. I stocked up on coffee for the house, then made my way to a local chocolate shop.
This stop was like the chocolate equivalent of Cheers. A local man sat on a stool chatting. A worker made chocolate in the back. The owner gave me tastes of her amazing chocolate masterpieces while chatting about friends and family. It was a really great environment. I bought some of the wares to have around the house when the family came back for the holiday, and was on my way.
After chocolate I made my way to a final jewelry shop. Within the first few minutes I saw a pair of earrings I liked. I was going to keep looking, but realized that energy would be wasted. These were the prize of the day!
I secured the turquoise beauties then left the shop and the town. When I arrived home, I put away my wares and enjoyed the quiet afternoon. Towards the end of the day, this view greeted me on my walk down to feed the horses.
When I was done, I made the trek back to the house and reflected on the beauty of a day well spent. To have strangers share their lives and art with me is something I’m truly grateful for. Not only does it expand my understanding of others, but it helps me reflect on myself, what I’ve been through, and who I want to be.
Not too bad for a day in small town New Mexico, right?
In the post documenting my visit to Santa Fe, I mentioned I was going to work on “doing me” in future adventures. What I meant by this was I planned to follow my own interests versus engaging in activities and adventures which I felt I should based off what others suggested. I’m proud to announce that the day after my trip to Santa Fe I was able to keep this practice of “doing me” intact in a Sunday adventure to Albuquerque.
Now, I’ll admit the day’s activities were framed by a friend’s suggestions. However, these suggestions matched up with the types of adventures I wanted to have. Seeing there was a fit, I made my way into town to peruse local shops in search of meaningful holiday gifts for friends and family.
My trip started with a stop at The Octopus and The Fox. This is a small shop near downtown Albuquerque which my friend recommended. The thing about the shop which I found inviting was the fact that they sell materials from local artists and craftspeople. My trip was on a Sunday, so I was not only able to easily find parking, but I was also the first person in the shop. I looked around the small space and found several meaningful surprises for friends including this card illustrated by a local artist:
Feeling satisfied and fulfilled, I made my way back across town for a stop at a local art supply shop. The shop hadn’t yet opened when I arrived, so I parked and decided to walk around the area. Not only I was greeted with questionable signs:
But I also found a coffee roaster!
I secured a delicious coffee, then made my way back to the shop. There, the wonderful women working helped me pick out some great gifts for the kids in the family. With this done, I got in the car and started to head back into the mountains.
At this point in my adventures, I usually find myself reflecting on how I should have “done more” with my day, but not on this day. On this day, I sat with the satisfaction and good vibes earned from a day of following my own threads instead of grasping on to those of others.
When I got back to the house, I settled in with the help of these characters:
I made my meals for the week while listening to podcasts and music. When done, I sat on the couch and sighed a huge sigh of contentment.
Being yourself really IS all it’s cracked up to be, isn’t it?
During my recent stay in Charlotte, I had the treat of watching the Lord of the Rings movies with two newbies to the series. For any LOTR fan, this is quite the delight! Answering questions, waiting for reactions, noticing things you didn’t the first 20 times you watched… it’s a time that can’t be beat. You can also bet I was WAY more excited by this than they were… what can I say, the story never gets old!
What is key to happiness number 4? Cultivate Good Character
The authors explain how this aspect is pretty much cut and dry for Tolkien. In LOTR, morally good characters meet with good ends and morally bad characters do not. There is only a very slight deviation from this in his books, but for the most part it’s a solid bet that if you are good in Tolkien’s middle earth, life will work out for you, and if not… sorry. Thus, it is clear that being a good person is something Tolkien thinks everyone should aim for.
I can’t deny that cultivating my own good character has been something of a focus for me along this path. As I reflect on when and why this started, I’m left blank. Was I always this way? I think not. Sure I have always been an OK person, but as of late I’ve found myself focused much more on putting energy out into the world that I would want to receive back. Further, I don’t want to receive bad, angry, resentful vibes, so I work not to give them out.
In addition, good character to me is about, as the Buddhists would say, cultivating Right Action, Right Speech, Right View, and the like. Meaning, I work to only take actions which I think are good for all involved. I try to keep my word when I say I’m going to do something. When I speak I try not to say bad things about others. I even look to see the whole picture in a situation and not blindly accuse.
Of course, I’m not always successful at these tasks. In fact I’m maybe successful half the time if I’m lucky. But, I do think the practice here is as important as the result. After-all, the key is to Cultivate Good Character, NOT Somehow Have Good Character Without Having Worked On It.
In this way, I plan on going about my journey towards a happy Hobbit style life. Doing so thus far has led to great conversations, increased knowledge, comfortable stays, and fun times.
Last weekend, I decided I was in need of an adventure. My choice of destination was none other than Santa Fe. Situated only 1.5 hours from where I’m staying, it’s far enough to get out for the day and close enough to make it home in time to feed the boys.
I was excited to see more of what I already know to be an amazingly beautiful state. Not only do I get to look at this view each day:
But I get to enjoy beautiful sights just about everywhere I go.
I’ve learned in my travels that I’m unable to just show up somewhere, wander around, then enjoy myself; so Friday night before my adventure, I put together a loose outline of the day. I was vigilant about adding things that felt right and removing those that didn’t. I also stayed very aware of trying not to pack too much into the day.
The plan was to go to the old part of the city and peruse for Xmas gifts, then head to get some hot chocolate which a friend said was worthwhile. I decided on the old part of town despite a friend saying how much he hated it. I figured since it was my first time in the city I should at least check out the historical area, since that’s what people ‘should’ do. Boy was I wrong… ish.
I got to Santa Fe around 11, parked, then began my wander. I tried, really tried, to enjoy the shops and galleries that abounded. Yet, I couldn’t. All I could do was scoff at it all. It just felt so… prescribed!
I was able to wander into a shop which felt less yucky than most, but after an hour or two I was spent. I did manage to enjoy the architecture and sight of the area a bit though. Here let me share that with you:
On my way out of the area, I wandered past a sign pointing to a second floor shop which sold “Arte, Libros, y Musica”. I was sold. Like metal to a magnet I ascended the stairs and wandered into a book filled shop straight out of the pages of a C.S. Lewis novel.
As I looked at the materials around me, I noticed something strange. Sure enough all the materials were written in either Spanish or Portuguese. My brain made this connection as a voice appeared from a room further back.
“¿Bueno?” said the voice.
“Hola,” came out of my mouth.
“Hola ¿esta bien hoy?” the voice replied.
From there I hacksawed my way through more Spanish until the man had mercy on me (probably more himself given my language abilities) and began speaking English. I went on to have quite the conversation with the shop owner who informed me I was in the second largest Latin American book store in the country!
We talked books, Mexico City, politics, you name it. I left the shop feeling connected and renewed.
And, ready for hot chocolate.
At the chocolate shop I had another in-depth conversation, and an amazing hot chocolate made from a native recipe which was 100s of years old! At this I decided it was time to head back.
On the drive I reflected on the day, and I observed myself starting to scold myself for not “enjoying the old part of the city more”. I stopped myself this time, then gave myself permission to accept myself instead.
It’s ok if I do or don’t like something that people say “should” be done. It’s also ok NOT to do these things which I know I don’t enjoy. In fact, my aim is to do less of what I don’t like and more of what I do like. If this means less touristy commercialism and more random conversations with strangers, you know I’m game.
The lesson? In future adventures I endeavor to “do me” without pause. I think this is really the only way to have less angst and frustration in adventuring times. And… less of these aspects in adventuring times, means less of them in other life moments as well.
I write to you from the other side of my travels back West. I left Charlotte on Saturday (I’m writing to you on the following Tuesday), and am settling back in to a life alone. In reflections on my time in North Carolina, I found much bubbling to the surface.
First, several people were trying hard to get me to stay. It was a humbling experience; their asking this of me. For example, the night before I left we had a holiday party with about 20 of my friend’s friends. In attendance was a second friend of mine from high school (the one whom I spent Thanksgiving with) and her husband. Her husband said to me, “In all seriousness. Should you choose to come back to Charlotte to settle, we’d love to help you. When D came home from dinner with you the other night, she said it was the best she’s felt in long time.”
Combine that with other guests asking me when I would return, and I felt more than welcomed. In fact, during that dinner out with D it was the closest to family and home I’d felt in a long while. I hesitated to leave the comfort of these sentiments.
But then the friend I was staying with countered, “She won’t be back. She doesn’t even like Charlotte.” She wasn’t all wrong, but she wasn’t all right either.
As I’ve mentioned time and again, a large part of this journey for me is about connecting with myself, understanding the core of my being, and living my truth. On many levels, the area around Charlotte isn’t a fit. There’s an energy there that just doesn’t connect with me. It’s a beautiful place, but it FEELS like a land inflicted with pain. It feels contracting and stifling to me, and, I recognize this is probably just for me. It doesn’t make the place a bad one, just not for me for the long term.
In contrast, many of the people there were quite wonderful to me. I felt honored to be in their presence, and to be taken into their group of friends. I hope to meet them again one day, and get to continue to swap life stories with them in the hopes of growing even closer.
For now, I take these lessons and reflections with me as I settle into the winter months in the New Mexico mountains. This is where I’ll wrap up 2018, and there seems no better place to turn inward to investigate all that has shifted and happened for me this year.
Yesterday was a hard day for me emotionally. It started off a great day. I felt as if I were finally stepping into my truth. I spent the morning confident and inspired. When the afternoon came though, something shifted. I became downtrodden. I felt overwhelmed with work and trapped in a prison of my own making. I find this place often. Too often.
Getting back to the story… I still haven’t figured out what exactly shifted. I’m unsure if I absorbed and internalized someone else’s negativity, or if my own negativity was surfacing itself to crush my positivity. I do attribute some of it to a friend not responding to my excitement with a equal excitement and my not remembering that her response needn’t effect me. Obviously there is more work to do here, but I digress.
After this episode, I finally made the time to sit down today to write. When I looked at my writing idea notes there was only one there: Post about idolatrizing technique and method from page 123 of Imperfection book.
Perhaps the most pervasive modern-day idolatry is the worship of “technique”.
The authors go on to define technique as “Attention to methods, use of routines”.
I do this. In fact, I idolize methods and routines ALOT. I convince myself that by following my daily routine, getting all my to dos for a day done, or following a method of another I’ll find wisdom, answers, and contentment. This is, of course, a lie. It’s not the technique that provides the output. It’s us.
When I think about it, I believe this idolization is one of the main causes of strife for me. It’s what I allow to prevent me from serendipitous happenings, from the magic of manifestation, and from the love of my imperfections.
I notice that because of this idolizing, if one part of one of my methods or routines is out of whack, my world comes crashing down. This is, of course, what happened yesterday when a whirlwind of meetings took me away from my normal flow. My foundation was cracked and my house fell in. I really hate when that happens.
What you see in the picture above is a simple beaded bracelet, but to me it represents much, much more. This is the bracelet the homeowner of the Tucson house offered me as a departing gift. She often stops on the way back from her adventures and buys jewelry made by the local Navajo tribes. This was one such piece.
I put it on and wore it pretty consistently even as I arrived here in Charlotte. A few nights ago I set it on the bathroom counter for the night, and sure enough the next day it was gone. Of course I looked at the loss as my fault, as this is the kind of thing that happens when you’re staying in a house with a couple of curious cats.
My gut hurt as I recognized the bracelet was gone. How could I be so careless? I’d only had it a couple of weeks and already I had lost it… how stupid of me!
These be-ratings were only part of the story though. I saw my losing the bracelet not just as careless, but as separating me from the experiences I had in Tucson. I saw it as a fracturing of my journey; a carelessness which meant a disregard for the lessons I had learned.
Yeah, I’m that hard on myself.
At the same time, I didn’t panic or search high and low for the item. I reminded myself that I carried the sentiments with me; bracelet or not. The bracelet was simply that, a bracelet. It was pretty, but losing it didn’t mean my ultimate demise.
I teetered back and forth between these two points of view for several days. At times I felt guilty that I wasn’t more torn up over losing such an heirloom, then other times I reminded myself it was no heirloom.
As I was talking with a friend overseas about nothing in particular, I felt moved to share with him this story. The sensation to do so came out of nowhere, but it was powerful. I spewed the story out as he listened patiently. When I was done he smiled at me then said, “You of course know all these experiences and lessons are inside of you. You carry them with you.”
Of course I knew this.
Hearing his words made the decision final. I stopped the teetering and let the bracelet go without remorse. I felt free.
The next night I was sitting on the couch watching a movie. Out of nowhere the kitten jumped on my lap, paused as if to set something down, then jumped off my lap.
I’m writing this post on the Friday after American Thanksgiving. (NOTE: I refuse to call this day “Black Friday” in my protest against worshiping materialism. Hey… I’m trying here.) I sit reflecting on the events of yesterday which involved me driving across a city I’m not from to have Thanksgiving dinner with a high school friend and her family. The day was humbling, but it was also very comforting.
My biggest take away from the day, at least so far, is how un-alone and taken care of I feel even as I travel the country alone. As I think about yesterday I consider how far I am from the girl I was in upstate New York those 20 years ago, and yet, how I had Thanksgiving dinner with people I know and love from that time in my life. Strange how that happened, right?
So many steps have been taken in-between, and still they led me right back to where I was. I’m changed, yes. Those around me changed as well, of course. But, there’s something that binds us; some sort of deep experience which chiseled its way into our roots and changed us forever.
During these reflections, I also think about, and am grateful for, how much more comfortable I feel in my life. Besides these moments where I’m reinstated into my comfort zone from old, I’m finding goodness and comfort when outside that zone as well.
For example, my travel from Albuquerque to Charlotte involved me flying standby. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, standby is an adventure I recommend going through at least once. It’s a trip… pun intended.
In this case I was flying as a guest of an employee (NOTE: This is called a “non-rev” ticket which I’m gathering stands for Non-Revenue ticket) and this status put me at the bottom of the standby totem pole (NOTE: Employees and their family members get a higher status than my ‘guest’ status). Being at the bottom of said totem pole meant I would be the first to get bumped from a flight if it filled up. The plan was for me to get to the airport early to increase my chances. (NOTE: by early we are talking 4 AM. Yeah, that early.)
When I got to the gate, I told the agent I was flying standby. She took my name then asked me to sit it out and wait. Several moments later my friend in Charlotte said my chances of getting there were slim to none if I followed our original path. She suggested I go speak to the gate agent and ask her advice. I began panicking. I didn’t want to spend the whole day trying to get on a flight only to get stranded in a random city.
So, as the agents began boarding guests on the plane, I went up to the desk afraid to be interrupting their most important task. I explained my situation to one of the agents, apologized for the inconvenience, and hoped. She immediately put me at ease. “No worries. I’ll take care of you like I take care of my kids in these situations.”
Sure enough, she re-rerouted me completely and I made it to Charlotte several hours later. I have no idea why she bestowed her kindness on me, but she was sure to add, “Don’t you worry, girl. I’ll be watching over you all day.” Wow!
Shortly after this interaction, I was seated waiting for the next flight when I man sat down next to me. We began talking and very soon got to the topic of my location independent life. Instead of asking me the usual questions, he said, “Do you get bored”?
You know it, Mister.
Come to find out he was once a nomad himself. We carried on an in-depth conversation where he shared his experiences, reaffirmed my lifestyle, and provided me the ever needed comfort and confidence.
So you see, between yesterday, and moments like those I’ve shared here, it’s hard to feel alone in the world even when I spend SO much time alone. These moments, though not new, have also become so much more meaningful and impactful as I’ve stripped away the noise which once distracted me from them.
I like to think there are always characters like these coming on and off the stage in this play we call life. My goal is to be the best version of myself during those scenes, and the ones in-between too.
I write to you after a week spent back on the East Coast. My current location is Lincolnton, NC; a smaller town about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. It’s rural here. It’s maybe not as rural as where I grew up, but there is certainly a great deal here which reminds me of my hometown.
Not the least of these reminders are my childhood friends who currently live in the area. In fact, I’m here because a friend whom I’ve known since I was 4 years old needed a pet sitter while her and her husband honeymoon in New Zealand. I am delighted to be that pet sitter! (NOTE: Their pets are really cute… AND they have a beagle)
Being surrounded by reminders of my youth has me thinking of a line from a book I recently read:
After all, it is the root that looks after the survival of an organism. It is the root that has withstood severe changes in climatic conditions. And it is the root that has regrown trunks time and time again. It is in the roots that centuries of experience are stored, and it is this experience that has allowed the tree’s survival to the present day. ~ The Hidden Life of Trees; Peter Wohlleben
When I read this, I paused. I’ve often thought of my current journey as one in which I’m getting back in touch with my roots. When one spends so much time alone without much external stimulus and distraction, it’s kind of hard not to go through this process. It’s a process where I’m constantly figuring out and trying to own who I am, why I am, what I believe, and how I want to live in this world. It’s also a process where I investigate how these beliefs were established, or became rooted, to be begin with.
If, as the author says, a being’s roots are the key to its survival of chaotic and changing times, it seems a necessary exercise to get back in touch with mine. After-all, they are what store my experiences and allow me to be who I am in my present day life. If I don’t unearth them, I fear I’ll remain a shell of what others say I should be instead of identifying with my core and living my own narrative.
And you know what… I’ve lived as a shell for far too long.
Guess I’ll keep digging.
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