I recently exchanged some emails with my closest friend and roommate for the previous three years. In the emails, we discussed how to love ourselves freely, and to live with intention. I want share a small excerpt from that conversation that I kept returning to. I've been thinking on this subject since Big Sur. I feel a deeper sense of happiness and contentment since exploring this part of myself.
"I want to say yes to life! I want to not be afraid of asking for help or if someone can take a picture of me standing against a breaking ocean, topless. I want to meet people with the full force of my kind spirit and love them. I want to answer questions with grace and brutality, not with giggles and jokes. I am fully capable of wreaking havoc on my fear. I am determined to act when I only feel like watching. I find that when I don’t know the answer to a question, if I think in love, and imagine myself as an orb of positive, radiant energy, directing it at the question or the person, the answer (or at least the feeling) will fall into my body like a feather or a leaf from a tree.”
This week, my brother Will and I went to Big Sur. I wanted to get away from the city and have been dying to go there. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The coastline was severe and took my breath away. I had to stop taking pictures because I was in too deep in awe. In some areas, the mountains looked like chocolate cake, sitting atop a blue plate. Or, like claws gripping deep into the ocean floor. I felt so small.
We hiked 20 miles roundtrip out to Sykes hot springs. These are free and rest on the edge of a steep cascade of rock, falling into a river bed. It get's pretty crowded in the summer, but we only saw several (naked) fellow soakers and I accidentally surprised two who were letting the romantic scenery get to them. We soaked all night and hiked out the next morning. Our tub was right next to the river and before long, we were seeing who could lay in the ice cold water the longest. I did 50 seconds. Wil did 75. We hopped back and forth, all alone and giddy with the excitement of having made the hike and found the perfect camping spot, a few feet from the tubs. The hike was difficult and I found myself thinking a lot during it. I contemplated what living with intention means to me and how I can embody that. I felt, as I struggled to gain 400ft out of a river bed, that I don’t live as honestly as I could.
Someone I care about very much is planning to visit me. He and I have been talking about it since before I went to South America. We haven’t known each other for very long and have only interacted in a controlled and comfortable environment. I am eager to have company, while at the same time, defensive and nervous of inviting someone into my inner sanctum (my car house). Not only that, we are planning on driving across the country. I’ve hardly travelled with ANYONE! My brother is basically the only person I can imagine traveling with and never getting sick of. I’m worried about not being able to express myself and in the right way. What if I need some alone time and I don’t have the nerve to tell him and I bottle it up until I freak out and run off into the Utah desert, barefoot.
I panicked and my inner voice screamed, “I haven’t thought this through!” What if I don’t want to do this? And then I realized how weird of a question that was. Did I really just ask myself this incredibly basic question and not know how to answer it?
We need to deal with this.
I asked a new question. "Where is my voice?"
I realized that I was keeping her (him, whatever) shut up. I couldn’t hear my intuition because she was too scared of being belittled by my negative thoughts. Right then and there, I started focusing on my breathing, deep and steady. Not just because I was struggling to lug my 35 pound pack, but it helped. I imagined myself as a pure orb of love and actively radiated that feeling throughout my body. I felt that feeling of happiness. I looked around at the wild scenery cradling me like a womb. I could smell the dirt and leaves and sweat. I let my body feel open and waited for my intuition to come out of hiding and fill me.
This all sounds a little wacky to the average person, but whether we want to admit it or not, we’ve all felt the feeling I’m describing, of heavy, holy love. Whether it’s when you look into your lover’s eyes (or dog!), or when we sit at a full dinner table of loved ones, or when we get that compliment we never even knew existed.
What I’m talking about when I talk about self-love, is controlling and creating this healthy emotional experience for ourselves. Just like Wim Hof, the Iceman can regulate his endocrine system with his breathing, we can tap into our bodies and access and create spiritual experiences. Meditating, yoga, etc. teach methods for this.
Haven’t you ever wondered why yoga instructors are so damn cheery all the time, almost to the point of being cheesy? Perhaps, because they spend every day tapping into their inner sanctum of emotional power and using it to feel good.
I struggle a lot with listening to myself. I tend to not like making decisions. Instead of saying no to something, I weasel out of it. Instead of saying yes to something with the full force of my intentions, I say maybe or I don’t know and then I wait and see what happens to me. Get it? Not a sustainable method for living a happy life. Too often, I excuse myself out of life and watch from the doorway.
I had five more miles to go on the trail. I was delirious from too long in the hot springs the night before and not enough water. I wasn’t convinced I would make it. My pinky toes had doubled in size due to new blisters and my left knee and hip, which I always have problems with, were about to melt into useless goo. It was the hardest hike I’ve ever done, and I’ve climbed a mountain in Denali, by way of nothing but a dried up glacial rock-bed, during a forest fire. I could feel my face clenching with every step. And here I was, trying to give myself a therapy session in my head.
But, there’s no time like the present. And it seemed like a damn good distraction. I decided right there, that I was going to work through this dilemma in my head. I was going to decide how I felt about my possible future travel companion. I asked myself again, “What do you want?”
I felt like Noah in The Notebook, on that boat dock. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?! WHAT….do you want?”
“You are love. Breathe. Feel. Love. Breathe. What do you feel?”
It’s hard to describe, but it became clear that I was afraid. I was afraid because I didn’t think I was strong enough to handle the situation. I didn’t believe in myself and therefore felt nervous about the unknown. Stress is our belief that we are not capable of dealing with a situation. I didn’t feel like I knew how to "adult". It made me angry at myself for trying to wiggle out of the responsibility when I was more than capable of handling it.
(Pep talk alert)
I can handle ANYTHING that comes my way. I can handle the excitement, the heaviness and the consequences my decisions provoke. I am determined to face the world head up and smiling. I DO want to see this person. I am excited to experience this fantastic landscape with them. I am confident that we will communicate effectively and exist in a place of mutual love and adventure. I’m comfortable being myself and expressing myself.
I realized that I really did want them to visit and us to go on this adventure. I don’t know how it will all go down and we will probably be poor, dirty and tired. But, leaps into the unknown and off the beaten paths of living are scary. I like comfort, and feeling safe. I forget that my new life is the opposite of that, and I have to learn to navigate the waters of this lifestyle and thrive, or I will just go stagnant. I am my own ship and captain.
It is a lot easier to sit back and let others have our responsibility. We tell ourselves that things our out of our control. “I can’t leave my job because I don’t know what I would do.” or “I just don’t feel like it right now.”
Truth is, every time we hand over the keys, we get more and more comfortable, sinking into the chair deeper and deeper. It gets harder to get out. When we do, it feels unnatural and we get scared. It takes a strong person to live outside of their comfort zone and society’s established agenda for them. Freedom isn’t free. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. You have to sacrifice comfort.
In my heart, I said yes with the full, brutal force of my being. Yes to the plan. Yes to personal responsibility and yes to my intuition. Yes, you may speak because I am hear, listening to you.
When we reached the car, it was dark. We laid down on the cold cement of the parking lot. I slumped the backpack off my shoulders in pain. My body felt hard as a rock. 20 miles in 24 hours. The most amazing hot springs I have ever seen. Ten peanut butter and jellies and one bottle of vodka.
I felt pure, unadulterated happiness balloon from my stomach and spread all over my body. I could have shot out into the sky like a shooting star.