Watching Trees Breathe

I have this habit of getting motivated to write out all my thoughts and feelings, seven different stories simultaneously, then somewhere along the way I lose it. I should have written about this or that. But it’s gone now. I don’t know if I consider myself a writer, because I do things like punctuate poorly and never keep a journal. I have about seven half-assed, sparsely-scribbled journals. And about all of them have pages which, in the end, wind up as grocery lists, schedules, and positive affirmation doodles, or underwater landscapes.

I think it was Flannery O’Conner who said something along the lines of.. ‘I never know what I think until I read what I write’- which sounds about right. I don’t know a damned thing until I’ve written it. Funny then, how the idea of writing motivates me about as much as watching trees grow in real time.

Then again, watching trees breathe life is nothing short of beautiful. It’s calming— stimulating. It’s living a moment of total presence, which is absolutely everything. Catharsis. I love being among the trees. Like I like writing, because it silences all other voices.

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I’ve spent time—caught up—waiting for the inspiration to strike. I recently spent ten months traveling solo. Inspiration was everywhere. Hell, I took a volunteer position as a volcano-trekking guide. My job was sunrises, sunsets, and setting up tents. I spent most of my time outside, but I didn’t write about it much. It was so real, and yet at times I reeled from the present moment by feeding into the anxiety of waiting to be. I camped under the stars, and something about it was everything, yet somehow, sometimes, I wasn’t enough.

Turns out, there never was a moment spent just waiting that was worth the energy. This is why I choose nature, to chip away at the not-enoughness, to stop waiting and to glimpse the everything. This is why I write, why I stopped beating myself up for not writing enough, or even having a point. Because I’d rather get stuck enjoying the process than expecting the result. I’d rather not worry about reconnecting the end of this story to its beginning. It was never meant to come full circle. I was just flowing without expectation, because, like the trees, I don’t wait to be as I grow toward the light.

You Be You

It all boils down to this, really. Be you. Do you. Become the YOU that you love, and plan for the future you want. The future that will make you thrive as the person you want to live with. Be kind. Be good to those you love. Be good to yourself. Because at the end of the day, no matter who’s in and who’s out of your life, you will ALWAYS be stuck with yourself. Love and make time for yourself, you know? It’s not selfish. It’s truth, because you can’t give real love to anyone if you haven’t enough for yourself.

Planning for your future in a real and concrete way is great. Just don’t get carried away and become so rigid in your planning that you don’t leave the essential space to adapt. Because things change. You change. And life always throws some weird, sometimes sweet, sometimes shit, things your way.

If a new opportunity presents itself and you want it more than what your plan dictates, to say NO would be a disservice to yourself. I believe that if something excites you, then you should always retain the freedom to pursue it. Nothing planned should dictate your inability to spontaneously change course if the new path is exactly where you want to be. No matter where you go follow the truth in yourself, and it will always take you exactly where you need to be.

Trust your intuition more than your mortgage, more than the voice that says you aren’t enough, more than any institution that makes you believe that you are bound more to THEM than you are to the pursuit of self love and growth.

In short- if you are to be honest with yourself, then leave room for some spontaneity in that plan of yours.

Airplanes Can’t Outrun Anxiety

When you get to Medellin, go straight to the Poblado district, they all said. It’s the best. This was just a small one of the many lies told by travelers. I should have learned by now not to listen. And most of the time, I don’t. But truthfully, prolonged sickness had made me weary, and the travel had stressed me out. Well, it was more than stress.

My first week in Colombia was plagued by the sort of chronic anxiety I hadn’t dealt with in ages. And when it finally did materialize it was almost unrecognizable to me. But, a bad feeling had been welling up before the plane even landed. The weasely whisper found its way into my mind’s dark spaces, and the only way to quell it would be to get out of the country. Fast. Leave. I didn’t know what it was, but Colombia already wasn’t for me.

I was in such a fog that I left the airport without going to baggage claim for my pack. I was eventually let back in, after a security screening. In the late afternoon of what had already been a long day, I managed to get myself and my belongings into a taxi, but the face in the mirror was glaring, and covered in tattoos. I considered that maybe I was being kidnapped. The driver drove recklessly to the posh Poblado part of town, before leaving me with a warm smile and an earnest goodbye. I should have felt ridiculous right then for misjudging the man, but I was still too on edge. The next day as I got off the metro I was followed by a young couple. I stopped for some street food, and disappeared into a busy plaza to elude them.

No matter what I did, where I went, the sinking feeling persisted. My heart seemed to perpetually beat at an uncomfortable pace. Strange things kept happening. This went on for over a week. I was screaming inside, and it wouldn’t stop. The Colombian pesos had too many zeros. I didn’t have an ear for Colombian Spanish. The city was difficult to navigate. And on, and on.

I had to get away, so I went a couple hours by bus to the countryside. I was eager for it to change me, to force the anxiety back to deep enough spaces in my mind that I could manage it. I kept track of this anxiety, became acutely aware of it, and paid attention to the behavorial changes it produced in me. I knew I’d get there, but it took some time to start really getting back to normal. I faked it for the first couple days, as I began meeting people. And then one afternoon I felt the weight lift. Everything from stress to stuff as simple as the inability to laugh without scrutinizing the way it sounded, all of it, just dissipated.

Finally, I could breathe again. I could laugh at myself, and with others. I could be myself without thinking about it. It had nothing to do with Colombia. It was the doubt that makes a home for inadequacy in the small spaces of an anxious brain.

I used to think that journals were for documenting the good stuff because I never wanted to look back and remember being in pain. I believed that if I buried my pain deep enough, I wouldn’t have to deal with it again. It seems normal to keep my most troubling feelings to myself, to wait out the storm that is suppressing my anxiety, and to wonder why I’m weird, without speaking it aloud. But I am human. I struggle. I do weird shit, like convince myself that I’m being followed. And I own that shit. It’s just part of coming into myself, I think. By recognizing these anxieties, I can bring my misery some company when it surfaces, and ultimately I can take the weirdness with the wildness, and embrace the fullness of my funky life.

 

Is Anything Spontaneous, Really?

We had been wandering through Oaxaca City for a good hour before one of us asked a simple question.

“Where are we going to eat?”

I don’t know if the adventure started there, or if there were forces at play long before that. But, everything seemed to just fall easily into place after the question had been asked.

Oaxaca’s Zocalo

Immediately, we found a vegetarian restaurant off the Zocalo, which was perfect because my friend was a vegetarian. But, we decided not to eat there, and kept walking. Around the corner in the busy city street there was a confused face we vaguely recognized from Iguana Hostel. We introduced ourselves. Her name was Sarah, from Finland. She was an editor of an online magazine, and just that morning she had lost her passport. She had also lost her friends, so we invited her to dinner. 

You know, I never bought into this idea of fate. There’s nothing predetermined about my life. Every moment is a new opportunity to decide differently. Whether it’s a matter of life or lunch. And, the life bit is not lost on me, as I have been known to erratically,  almost theatrically, make drastic life changes with little more than a moment’s notice.

Anyway, the three of us spent that evening at the same restaurant we passed up the first time around. After drinks we moved to wine, where Sarah revealed to us the trip she had just been on.

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That trip, San Jose del Pacifico

In the Oaxacan mountains at 2500 meters there is a small town called San Jose del Pacifico. We talked for just ten minutes about it before Aga looked at me and asked another simple question. “You wanna go?” And that was it. My answer was yes and the next morning we were on a bus bound for an idyllic town where primavera festivals, Mayan healing rituals, ten peso tequila shots, chance encounters with new and old friends, sunsets, laughter and mushrooms all came together to create the trip I really needed.

There I determined my next country, which, when you have become a stuck traveler, can be revolutionary.

Those are other stories, however, because the story here is about fate. If we hadn’t said no the first time around to this vegetarian restaurant we never would have cruised the block and made a new friend. We wouldn’t have insisted, as we did, on following up the meal with wine. We may never have heard of this little mountain town. If my friend hadn’t asked the simple question. If I hadn’t responded with a yes. If Sarah hadn’t lost track of her friends at that very city block at that exact time.

Hell, I wouldn’t even be here with Aga if I hadn’t met a guy a month back in Flores, Guatemala who gave me a pillow, whose name I remembered because of that, whose name I’d randomly shouted across a busy street in San Cristobal, Mexico when I saw someone who resembled- but couldn’t have been- him. He, whom it was, and whom happened to be staying at a hostel with this Polish girl I was now adventuring with. What if I hadn’t chanced to see him on that random street in that busy city? Or what if we never started talking on that rooftop in Guatemala in the first place?

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…That sunset

But those ifs never mattered, because everything sorted itself out. Now, I don’t know if my experience in Mexico could have been any different. It was too perfectly aligned. And in the end the only work I ever had to do to live these adventures was to be exactly where I was, and to simply say yes.

But, that’s just travel for you, isn’t it?

Cheers to that!

 

Traveling Alone is Far from Lonely

Before travel I lived in a social world, one where being alone was a collective fear. One where I made plans to spend time with those I loved, but oftentimes life would get in the way. It was a world where I bumped into friends at the supermarket, and insisted we should plan something. Really, we should get together. And I meant it. But I lived for the weekend- which was Tuesday- where I would cram all my quality time with good friends into a few hours. It wasn’t enough. Seven months ago I took a break from that world to travel on my own. And, you know what? The life I left behind was a lot lonelier than the one I live now.

Back in my social world, time with myself was usually spent waiting for something, or thinking too much about shit that didn’t matter. When my world was regimented it was harder to make new friends precisely because it took a painfully long time to reveal my true self to anyone. I walked around in suppressed agony that “no one gets me.”

Thankfully, travel helped me to dissolve fear of the self. I embrace the time I spend alone, because I enjoy myself. I care less about the things that don’t matter, and because of that, I come into relationships more organically. I value my relationships, however short and spontaneous. I marvel at the regularity in which people come into my life, and affect me with even a single act.

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Let new friends in. Let old fears go.

And just as I value the relationships that I cultivate in my traveling life, I’ve become better at spotting those relationships that don’t serve me. There are people I’ve needed to say goodbye to, so I could get back out on my own. Because, it’s just better to travel alone than it is to be lonely traveling with the wrong person.

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Travel inspires

For the Maybe Traveler

Today, I spent my first full day in León, Nicaragua. I live here now. And if you (like me) have experienced being stuck in a rut, and might like to live somewhere new and different then this post is for you. I’ve been in the country a whole week now and this is (so far) an account of everything I know to be true. I’ll go ahead and warn you there isn’t much to tell, because, well… it’s been a week and I don’t know shit.

First off; leave your life to chance when you travel here, but that goes for anywhere.

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My house, and my work
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Masaya Volcano

And that’s it. That is everything I know. Not satisfied with it? Well this post, like everything I do, isn’t very well thought out. But that’s okay- I learn through existence. And I like it here. Taking massive risks seems to me the surest way to enjoy an experience as awesome as this.

I choose to exist the way I do precisely because of the opportunity I am given to embrace unknowable things. I crave new experiences, because the more I learn the less I know. If you’ve never been here (or anywhere on your own for that matter) and think you may like to buy a one-way ticket, then just do it. Leave your life to chance, embrace the wildness of everything that frightens you, and enjoy a moment in time you will never regret.

My Last Minute Life

I’m no good at leaving places, because I’m no good at planning anything. Having some money in the bank, booking a plane ticket, and packing a bag (without forgetting my passport) is my idea of really having my shit together. It’s when I arrive at the airport, like I did today, in complete and total disarray, that my ridiculous reality reveals itself.

Rewind a few hours to me packing for an open-ended trip south. In what became, as it always does, the hour of franticness, I packed more of what I didn’t need and less of what I did. Who takes two sweatshirts and two base layers to hot, humid Nicaragua? I did that.

And now, here I am. Outside the international terminal of LAX. Carelessly, I haven’t even checked my departure airline. And unless I can get my expired phone linked up to WiFi, I’ll be out of luck. I’m walking a thin line, here.

After some time fumbling with a weak connection, I figure out I’m in the wrong terminal altogether. My layover is in Vegas, so I’m flying domestic. Okay, that’s one thing sorted, but what about the onward ticket I never purchased? I need proof of leaving Nicaragua in order to be let in on a 90-day tourist visa. And it’s something I’ll apparently need to figure out before even checking my bag. Anxiety sets in like the familiar fog of this morning’s hangover. A cold beer sounds like the right remedy, but there are a few things to be sorted beforehand.

My under-preparedness is stifling, but realistically there’s no other way. Some deep breaths and I’ll have to get on with it. I don’t plan well, and I know that if I plan things too far in advance I’ll end up talking myself out of ever doing anything. I change my mind so chronically, in fact, that a friend recently observed it may be in my best interest to never make plans further than a day in advance. Because if given the time I will change my mind. And it will be—as it always is—frantic, and totally last minute.

I may not have thought so far in advance about buying an onward ticket, and I may have no idea how to get where I’m going after my plane lands, but these are a few of many things I’ll wind up procrastinating indefinitely.

Which brings us here. I’m finishing this post from a woven hammock at GM Granada Hostel in Granada, Nicaragua, enjoying a cold Toña, and watching the beautiful tortugas relax by their pond. I count 11 turtles. Luck, fortunately seemed to be on my side on this one. In the end I was never asked by anyone to present proof of onward travel. I caught the first taxi from the airport in Managua willing to take me to the city of Granada per my offer. And now I can laugh at the fact that in spite of my logistical ill-preparedness, I made it to exactly where I want to be.

I Miss Everywhere

I miss every place I leave. Wanderlust keeps me moving, but leaving never gets easier. The opposite, even.

 

I was in Colorado for over a year. I spent this summer in Washington State. This week I’m in California. And with each of these places (and every single other place) I have fallen completely and totally in love with the little things that make that experience uniquely its own, and unlike anything else. I have a restless nature. I never make up my mind. Until I leave a place. The moment I go is the moment I begin to understand everything I feel about this place. That place, now. And my heart will hurt, inevitably, because that was a place where I learned a new way to experience life. With beautiful and unique people.

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Everywhere I go I will find people who are as curious and passionate as me. And the experiences we create together will be completely ours. I love that. In a life of constant flux THAT is something I can be sure of. Leaving Washington felt weird. But getting here- in this new place- felt immediately like home. But in a few days I’ll be heading out again.

Anxiety and fear accompany the excitement, sure. But it feels pretty fucking reassuring to be this in love with the experience of living.

Never ‘Enough’

Nothing is ever ‘enough’ for you.  

My friend said this to me yesterday, but she isn’t the first. My Ex had emphatically expressed the same sentiment for years.

I considered the comment. Wellthat’s a good position to be in… I said, unsure whether to feel critical of my demanding nature, or perhaps self-assured by it.

Don’t you think? I added.

The truth is that I don’t want to find my happiness living an ordinary life. I want seek out experiences that turn my stomach to knots. I want to take chances, to laugh wildly (if at times nervously) in the midst of uncertainty. I choose to be restless and unsatisfied. And I only hope that I may continue to passionately  chase my dreams, that I may continue to dream, knowing that as long as I live I will never have experienced “enough”.

Of course, plenty of people living ordinary lives seem much happier than me.  They have a Doctor they see, and a Dentist. They attend community events, and grow gardens. They have families, and foundations, and love surrounding them. They have a network of support within their communities. They celebrate holidays, and plan their vacations properly. They punctuate their calendars with exclamation points!! They feel comfortable in their homes and their careers, as they build a future.

I, on the other hand, live out of a backpack. I moved to Olympia a few months ago, where I sleep on a couch in the living room of a friend’s apartment. I’m leaving my new job in a few weeks. I feel pretty lonely because I haven’t been here long enough to make strong connections. I daydream constantly. I am constricted because I don’t have a car, and my new bike was stolen. I imbibe considerably, and complain that I’m not hiking enough. My life is very far from perfect, which is everything I need.

I can- and I will- demand more. This place is as temporary as anywhere else, because what I’m looking for isn’t a place to settle into, but rather a point to jump off from. Although it has led me on some unnerving adventures, my passion is ultimately what guides me. And I like that. I like asking my heart, Where to next?

Ready and Not

It’s been a month. More than that, actually. And I’m still lost. My savings is slowly being chipped away at and the fear of never accomplishing my ridiculous and glorious dream has set in. There is only one option. To take a risk. I had a plane to catch.

And I didn’t.

Because that wasn’t MY dream. It was a dream created by me, for someone else. Because I was afraid of what I wanted- for myself. But now I’m free. I don’t have a lease. I don’t have a car. Or much of a job. I could leave at any time. I am adventure-ready! But I’m SO not ready.

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She ponders.. On the wild Washington Coast

The time is now. Or maybe next month. Sometime before Christmas. Next year, I swear. Maybe never. This is my anxiety. This is the fear that I must overcome before I can go anywhere. Or maybe not. Maybe the journey is where I find the answers I’m searching for. It almost doesn’t matter anymore what I do. As long as I go.