After 11 years living in NYC, I left for 5 months to travel Asia. Leaving friends, relationships, a job, my community and many comforts to travel and teach yoga. I had also recently left a comfortable 3-year relationship, and a 3-year position at a start-up. These big changes were difficult, but necessary to honor my integrity and desires.
While traveling, there were some serious highs and lows, and I was thrown into wildly new and sometimes difficult situations. On the high note, I lead a beautiful yoga retreat with a dear friend in Bali, that reminded me of the sacredness of nature, the struggles we share as humans and the love that binds us all. In Laos, I hiked for 8 hours, to stay with an indigenous tribal family high up on a desolate mountain top; I slept on a wooden board and there was with no bathroom, toilet or out-house.
The children made toys from leaves and wood, played with pigs, ate simple rice and vegetables meals, and were content. I was humbled and reminded of how fortunate we all are to experience life, no matter our circumstances. I bathed Elephants, ate mangos off the tree, sang around beach bonfires, nearly broke my leg, hugged a lot of new friends, danced at sunset, rode a motorbike in the chaos of Bangkok, explored caves and climbed Cliffside rocks, scuba dived with turtles and confided in strangers.
Ultimately, moving from place to place can be lonely, or worse, you find yourself surrounded by people who don’t connect with, people who are difficult or challenge part of you. Sometimes, I reached out to connections back home, to find comfort in the face of the unknown. It was difficult to embrace my loneliness. Because I had been keeping myself distracted with various social engagements and responsibilities in NYC, I hadn’t had time to be alone with myself. Now, I had to be with myself and be okay with myself. I had to hear all my subconscious cyclical thoughts. Process the negativity, the replaying of difficult memories and all my current hesitations in my life. I had to sit and process my sadness and fear around ending my relationship and starting a new career.
Times of deep sadness are sacred and necessary for reflection and growth. I laid down my sorrows, fears and grievances to God. I had an honest reflection on them in order to move forward fully. After a while, these stories shifted, became a lighter within me, and no longer held me captive. I forgave those who hurt me. I forgave myself and accepted my situation. I decided to move forward onto something I was passionate about, something that made me feel purposeful. I started to understand that I can utilize my experiences for elevation rather than letting them shrink me down into fear or complacency. I committed to my daily spiritual practices to cultivate self-love, compassion, strength and peace in my inner world.
During these times, I noticed how we can be our own worst enemy. We are the ruler of the inner stories, but so often we make our difficulties worse in our minds. Of course, we all have darkness, fear, difficulties and insecurities, but if we lessen those sad stories, there’s more space for loving stories to arise -- stories of our blessings, strength, compassion, joy and triumph. Beneath my dense thoughts of inflated difficulties, there was a perfect peace with everything. My daily practices of mindfulness, journaling out my fears and desires, and cultivating thoughts of gratitude and compassion, has continued to elevate my existence.
The magic and excitement of back-packing is certainly addictive but it isn’t sustainable long term. At times, I felt lacking purpose, and desired to be teaching and with a community. That’s what lead me to find a two-month teaching position at a Wellness Center in Thailand and so I decided to extend my trip and be grounded in one place. It was comforting to be in a conscious community, learning from many souls who I could connect with. I thought those two months in Thailand would be a time for planning my return to NYC. But, I didn’t end up planning my return so much as integrating all my experiences and enjoying the moments in front of me. I was more in the present, in flow, I lived simply, had ocean swims daily, connected with travelers coming to heal or rejuvenate, I bonded with my yoga students, I detoxed, I wrote daily, I read a lot, I was playful, I connected with a beautiful female tribe who held all the parts of me, I laughed, I cried. A few weeks before I was meant to return to the states, I considering going to another location to teach yoga, but when that fell through, and I seriously injured my leg, I decided to board my return flight to NYC. Hurting my leg was frightening, and I was a reminded of the fragility and uncertainty of life. It’s the reason we should be bold, follow our hearts, tell it like it is, stand up for ourselves and others, forgive, be generous, share the gifts we have and be present with those we love, because we don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Coming back has been one of the most confusing and challenging times of my life. In NYC, where so many people have built careers, start-ups, creative projects or are settled into serious relationships, I felt out of step. On top of that, every foundation I once had was gone: my apartment, old friends, romantic relationships, jobs, material objects… all gone. Yes, I was in the familiarity of NYC, but after the experiences I’d had, made everything feel different. My possessions were in a storage unit, and I was sleeping on my friend’s couch with my suitcase, questioning everything. Why did I come back? What is the next step at this major cross-roads? How do I fit into this city now? If not here, where do I go? There were so many variables now and I felt ungrounded and unstable which was scary for me.
You see, I am someone who has always been forced into being independent. Growing up, like every child, I desired connection and stability but I felt a lack in both. My parents went through multiple divorces and upheavals, and I was shuffled between different families, siblings, homes and beds. I lived in 13 different homes before I was 18. At times, I slept at shelters, neighbors, friends and grandparents. Unfamiliarity was the constant. I was an only child until I was 11 and then I took the role of care-giver to my newborn sister. I often made my own dinners, walked myself home, checked my own homework. I clenched to school, cheerleading and church to give me connection and community. I always longed for “normal” family comforts that others seemingly had. When I moved to NYC, similarly I grasped for love and stability everywhere I could. Held on to friendships, romances and careers that weren’t right for me, just to feel steady. I tried to force things to work that needed to be released. I desired a life that was secure, dependable and safe, but I ended up feeling bored, regretful and uninspired. I vacillated between taking risks for something that my heart desired, and then finding myself too afraid again of all the instability with that decision. So I would go back to safety. For me, it’s been a constant battle to find the middle ground. These 5 months of traveling, once again, challenged me as my safety net was taken away.
What I’ve realized from these challenges is that you cannot truly have stability no matter what you chose in life, so you may as well follow your deepest desires. You cannot guarantee tomorrow or any goal, so why settle for a goal because it’s easy. You cannot become the person you’re meant to be by trying to fit yourself into other people’s standards. You cannot depend on anyone else to make you happy; infact your relationships will only work when you completely love yourself. You cannot truly feel alive unless you’re living a limitless life. Realize, the only limit is the one you invent for yourself.
For 5 months, I forgoed the new Yorker social ‘norms’ of warm showers, manicures, pedicures, and blow-drys. I lived with one bag of clothes. I lost valuables and replaced them by borrowing from others. I enjoyed really simple meals off the land. I relished conversations of those around me, rather than trying to find something more interesting to occupy my mind. I appreciated a pillow to rest my head and shelter from mosquitos. I shared bedrooms with perfect strangers and slept on hammocks. Returning to NYC, with it’s exquisite dinners, million dollar pent-houses, fine wine and need for individual success, made me nauseous. Albeit, most of my friends are doing amazing philanthropic work in the world, I still had an overwhelming sense that so what many people are striving for is unnecessary. Working 12 hours a day to afford fancy dinners, designer clothes, crazy rent prices, and for what? Do we still have time for our loved one’s, for community and family, to be one with nature, to relish in simple pleasures and intrinsic creative pursuits? We seem to have lost balance with little time for our soul and little connection to nature. As I started to share my story, I realize that I am not alone. Many are recognizing that there’s a new paradigm emerging where you don’t have to destroy your soul or well-being to afford a happy life. There are ways to live more simply, while doing work you value. And so I continue to march forward on this path, honoring my highest truth. I hope you do to.
Ultimately, our life’s purpose is to learn, grow and share. To step out of our own imaginary limits, to deepen ourselves and expand. That journey is different for everyone and for some people, perhaps they find one true calling or passion. But most of us it's a journey to continuously question what’s familiar, and step into what we desire to create. The path isn't linear, and we all have unique obstacles to overcome. The best we can do is strive to experiment and create in life without fear of failure and without too much attachment to the outcome. Allowing for our genuine pursuit to be enough and being compassionate when it doesn’t go as planned. Remembering to forgive and love ourselves as we are doing our best and striving for greatness.
Mostly, I’ve learned that believing in yourself and tenderly loving yourself is the most important thing. It trumps all circumstances and what anyone else thinks of you. If you don’t have compassion for your mistakes, you’ll never move forward. If you can’t forgive yourself, you’ll always hold on to regrets. If you can’t love yourself, nobody else will be able to love you enough. If you don’t believe you can achieve something, then you might as well never begin.
And while achievements in life are great, nothing is more valuable than your self-love. No person, experience, accomplishment, job, loved one or salary can make you feel good about who you are. That’s the inner work that you have to attend to on the regular. I hope you do.
published on Adhara.com