Where Am I Trying To Go?

It’s hard to find a moment where I’m not rushing blindly into the next. As if there is some final destination that I’m frantic to reach. Without even realize it, I’ve spent half my life in fast forward. It just feels like the past and the future are somehow more tangible and quantifiable than the present moment ever can be. I’m afraid to rest here precisely because it is so fragile and fleeting. Fearful that if I live in this moment, I won’t have anything to show for it a few years from now. But focusing on an imaginary future can never serve me. The happiness I say I desire above all else, can only be found right here.

For someone who is so caught up in mental machinations, it’s extremely hard to settle into the simplicity of bodily sensation and experience. Language and logic cannot hold onto the slippery, ineffable value of being just as I am. The effort to try to make sense of everything pulls me out of every moment and places me in an artificial bubble of self-awareness, severed from the here and now unfolding before me. It feels foreign to forget myself in the soft feeling of fabric against sensitive skin. My mind has become so powerful and proficient at wrestling my other senses into stale submission. Finding myself suddenly surprised to scan my body and realize, once again, I’ve bitten my finger until its stinging and bleeding. How can I continuously be so cut off from the physical manifestation of me?

Never would I have imagined that one of my life’s greatest challenges could be participating in it. I’m much better at meticulous planning and pushing and pulling myself than planting my feet mindfully in front of me with every step. How bizarre it is to attempt to do nothing, and fail so reliably. Sitting on the bank of a river, utterly unable to keep myself from casting a line again and again. Not even noticing that I’ve been fishing, then suddenly coming back to reel my over eager hook back in for the thousandth time. Not even finishing setting my intention to be silent and settle into the stillness before realizing that damn bobber is already back on the surface of the water. The stamina of my persistence and patience needs to be built up, and that will take time. I’ve been strengthening my practice of falling into frustration these past 28 years. I must allow myself to surrender to the possibility it may take 28 years to rectify that habit.

It seemed simple and exciting when I first stumbled upon the ancient knowledge of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and learned all that I truly desired was already mine. Little did I know that getting to a point where I was capable of granting myself permission to enjoy it would be a tremendously tedious and time-consuming trial. I must constantly remind myself that my repeatedly frustrated efforts, my failures, my relapses, my misdirections are all worth it. I want life to be easy, but I need it to be challenging so that I may learn and grow and develop into a being I can be proud of.

Every moment can be a celebration, a chance to be grateful, when I remember that I’ve already reached the destination I’ve been striving for. Every time I take a deep breath and notice the world around me is a victory. I won’t be discouraged by my many mistakes and missteps. They cannot spoil the joy contained within the rare moments where I manage to be fully present. Small successes still count. Whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward, in the end I will always be right here. And right here is the only place I need to be.

Childhood Friends

I wish someone had told me to hold onto all the people I once knew. I wish I had some way of knowing what I was throwing away, or at the very least letting fizzle out, watching with disinterest as my many fertile gardens of companionship withered in the hot sun of time. When you’re young, it’s hard to realize what you have. Everything just feels like it’s always been that way, that it will always be that way. Friends come and they go without much fear of social isolation. There will always be new peers, new classmates, new friends to take their place. Every school year is a new start, a new chance to build connections. After high school, there is always college to find your chosen family.

Six years after getting my Bachelors and only now am I beginning to realize the opportunities I squandered for all those years. I would always hear people saying that high school doesn’t matter. That you’ll leave those doors and all the people inside behind forever once you graduate. Not to worry about those relationships, because there will be plenty more that are more important in the future. Looking back, I wish instead they had said those years don’t have to matter. I realize now this was a message for people struggling in school, the social outcasts, the kids that felt like they’d never fit in or find friends. This message was a beacon of hope for them, a call to keep their courage as they moved out into new avenues of life. The point wasn’t that I shouldn’t invest effort in maintaining the relationships I did have. It wasn’t about devaluing the whole idea of childhood friends.

At the time, it seemed like a waste of energy, pathetic even, to try to cling to old friends that were no longer around you everyday. After all, there was a whole new pool of peers to meet and mingle with. Why reach out to people from the past? I never really gave much thought to the fact that the bonds I formed in college would one day become less convenient as well. What then? It was quite a shock when I started working full time to feel the difference between a classroom and a work place. Not only were there far less people to interact with in general, but those people were vary rarely of an age that I would consider my peers. We had very little in common. I already had trouble finding companions within my age group, let alone outside of it.

All these years later, I often find myself looking back on all the bridges I burned, wondering if there is any way I could salvage them, or if the other party has already forgotten me. I never understood how precious a childhood friendship truly is until it was too late. There is an empty space inside the new connections I make. There was something so special is the knowledge that the other person really knew you. They knew all of you. They had watched you grow up and you had known them just as intimately. That’s something you can never have with someone else, even if they tell you about who they used to be. You are still only seeing it through their eyes, only getting the bits they want to reveal. And something aches inside of me when I acknowledge that.

Personal Growth from a New Perspective

Self-help books, new age rituals, skill building, knowledge gathering, psychoanalysis, deep introspection. These things have stood as guiding pillars in my life. I ended up majoring in psychology, not because I had any idea of how to turn that into a career, but because it utterly fascinated me. I couldn’t get enough of the things I was learning in my classes. I never had to study. My brain naturally absorbed and integrated every scrap of knowledge I was given in those four years of riveting education.

The pursuit of knowledge never needed to have a higher purpose for me. It was an end in and of itself. I LOVE learning, especially about the mind, my own mind more specifically. I am truly blessed with this passion for academia. Learning is a hobby that can never get old. There are a limitless amount of things to study. Learning something new never fails to light me up inside and send me into that blissful flow state. The rest of the world falls away as I become engrossed in new knowledge and sharing that knowledge with anyone and everyone who will listen.

Society has a way of twisting my intentions though. I get bogged down with the motivations of humanity as a collective, or at least what the media portrays as our motivations. Everything we do as a species seems to be directed at some ultimate end goal, whether that be a physical reward like wealth or simply becoming “better” in one way or another. We lose the moment in our fixation on the ending. Sometimes I have to stop myself and ask, “Wait, why am I doing this again?” Any answer besides “I enjoy doing it” fills me with a dreaded sense of obligation, yet just doing something for pleasure can overwhelm me with existential doubt. “What’s the point then?” As if any point besides pleasure and happiness could make an activity matter more.

When I get too caught up in focusing on outcomes or “bettering myself” through my personal pursuits, I eventually get burnt out and want to give up on everything. It really wears you down mentally to spend every day trying to reach some self-growth goal, implying who and where you are right now isn’t good enough. I never seem to reach whatever goal I’m aiming at, not that I’d be any happier if I did, because what then? No, the real purpose is found in the experiences themselves, in the very act of growing.

For example, when I began my daily practice of drawing during the pandemic, my intention was clear. I like to draw. It makes me happy. It helps me connect with my inner child and reminds me of those carefree days of doodling in my school notebooks or sketching manga with my best friend. That was it. Pure and simple. And it did bring me so much joy. Without trying to, I saw myself getting better and better. I didn’t care how my art stood up against the art of others, or what I was going to “do” with all these images. I found innocent satisfaction in the miracle of the mind and body’s ability to improve at anything that you choose to practice.

After such a long time doing this, however, I began to forget what the purpose was. Instead of wanting to draw everyday, instead of it being a time of rest and relaxation, it became a duty, just another chore, something I had to do. I started getting stressed about not somehow making money off of my work. I got jealous and disheartened rather than inspired by the work of others. I was distraught and frustrated at my lack of progress. I felt stagnant and full of self-criticism and self-doubt.

I am writing all of this down as a reminder of the remedy, if and when this cycle should unravel again. The first thing I need to allow myself to do is TAKE A BREAK. Not drawing for a few days, a few weeks, even a few months, does not mean I will never draw again. It just means I need a break to give myself the space to want to draw again. Forcing myself to do it under some assumption I have to keep practicing to get better makes no sense when the point isn’t to get better, it’s to have fun. Getting better is just part of that fun, but is meaningless on its own.

The second step after a reasonable break, is to try something new. I cannot express the joy I have rediscovered through this step. Trying something new is a great way to shake myself out of stagnation in anything, but especially art. Not only do I have to focus more, it breaks me free from my strict expectations. Whatever I create doesn’t have to be the best thing I’ve done. It doesn’t have to top yesterday. I feel mentally accepting of the fact that I won’t be incredible at what I’m doing. It’s the first time I’ve even tried! When I do something new or in a different way than usual, I escape the fear of failure, while also opening up the possibility of surprising myself with success.

I think most of us end up running our lives entirely on autopilot. Then we wonder why we are so unhappy. I’ve come to realize, without changing anything externally, I can completely shift my experience of daily life by just shifting and/or re-centering myself on my intention. Sure, I enjoy doing things that largely fall under the umbrella of “self-improvement,” but that doesn’t mean I do them because I’m not good enough, or because happiness lies at some personal perfection finish line. I like getting better, not because I’m “better” at the end, but because it’s fun to play with that edge of your own ability. It’s exciting to see what I’m able to do whether that be mentally or physically.

So, future Rachel, if you’re reading this, don’t forget! Whether in art or anything else you choose to do, happiness and purpose are not to be found in results. The joy and the meaning are inside the very moments of creation, of learning. You don’t have to know the ending. All you have to do is follow the feeling. The feeling of curiosity, of playfulness, or even the feeling of laziness when you need a rest from it all. No final product matters if you have to be consistently miserable to get there.

Teach Me How to Know You

I so desperately want to know the delicate details that make up the lives of others. The small, seemingly insignificant instances that strike us all, the strange stiches that have sown us into who we are today. The utterly unique patchwork pattern of experiences that compose every individual. Intimate, private memories that stand out and tangle up our hearts with hidden meaning. I don’t want to know how your day is going. I want to know who you are.

Small talk has always been one of my deepest frustrations, a tedious trial to be muddled through with the intention of reaching the real conversations that lie beneath it. My jaw clenches at the impossible effort it takes for me to navigate this fragile transition. Some people seem to open themselves to my curious soul like the mouth of a river into the ocean. Infatuation, fascination, true connection. The inexplicable, spirit quenching rawness of seeing behind the curtain of another person’s consciousness. The conversations that feel like pure creation.

Other people remain forever closed to me. Infuriating mysteries, staring at the bare walls of an empty room. No cracks to peer through, no insight to be uncovered. I can’t think of the right questions to break through blank stares. I know there is so much more inside, behind those unknowable eyes. Everyone has the depth that I hold within, an entire galaxy of thoughts, perceptions, and memories. But how do I learn to unveil the inner world of others? I can’t just ask them who they are. This gradual uncovering must come organically. Yet patience alone isn’t enough to draw it out.

The more often I find myself unable to crack the complicated code of true connection, the more I surrender to inner solitude. Giving up is what I know best, especially when it comes to other people. When I can’t see someone, I can’t believe that they see me. The smothered shouting of my soul demands a real witness. Demands to be drenched in the bottomless black water of knowing another being.

Green Tea Memories

Tea has been a re-occurring theme throughout my tangled life. My mother always preferred drinking tea to coffee. Her nervous nature simply couldn’t handle that much caffeine. Mornings filled with the fragrance of spices and herbs, clinking spoons, and tiny damp disposable bags.

Tea soaked wounds of my first broken heart remind me of moments of reluctant connection. It’s easy to wake up early when you’ve slept for over twenty four hours in the last two days. Dreams can only provide an escape for so long. When even that sanctuary is stolen from you, I learned that peace can be found in the slow ritual of sipping tea before sunrise. The begrudging silence between mother and daughter, the surrender of accepting help from someone you despise. Because you need her, and that hurts in its own strange way.

New love blossoms around a very different tea routine. Evenings after school, every day spent looking forward to this small, private heaven. Boiling water in the microwave and adding too much honey. The laughter we once shared when you finally admitted you couldn’t bear the way my overly sweetened tea made your lips sticky. Flirtatious frustration from the way you used to tease me for blowing on my drink before every sip instead of waiting for it to cool.

The soft haven found beneath the crumbling roof of your mother’s house. Her hovering hospitality of sharing joints with underaged teens, providing refreshments of my first teas made with milk. The strange, yet soothing smoothness of the subtle flavor. Savoring the mouth-watering smells of the best home-cooked dinners I’ve ever had being prepared in the next room.

All these years later, my heart can still rekindle those tender memories involuntarily as I sip my milky matcha. The most delicious ache, a powerful longing for a life that no longer exists. Beautiful lapping waves of private sorrow, never to be seen or shared. How can so much pleasure be found in such pathetic pining? Surely this secret clinging is a sickness, a delusion that corrodes all chance of a future. Even so, even so…

Pulling Away

If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.

Dalai Lama

It feels like this sentiment has received a lot of backlash in recent years. People are offended when you suggest their lack of self-love somehow eliminates their potential to love other people. This quote is at the back of my mind a lot and I’ve thought about it in different ways at different points in my life. I believe both perspectives have validity to them. I don’t think it’s impossible to have love for other people if you don’t love yourself. I know the love I receive from the people in my life often makes it more possible for me to show myself love and compassion. But I don’t think that was ever the message trying to be conveyed. The message to me was that you can’t love others fully or as much as you would be able to if you loved yourself.

Relationships of any kind are very difficult for me. I do think it stems a lot from the way I love myself, or rather the way I don’t love myself. Throughout my life, all the relationships that have stuck were with people that are extremely open, loving, caring, and communicative. These people are the easiest for me to connect with, because I feel safe with them. And I guess to a certain extent, maybe they have the self-confidence and self-esteem to not take it personally when I am in one of my anti-social moods.

I’ve recently noticed how a lot of my other relationships break down over time. If the other person is not always openly expressing their good opinion of me or how much they value me and our friendship, I slowly start to convince myself that they don’t care about me. Because of this often mistaken perception, I pull away. They notice me pulling away, so they pull away. My suspicions are confirmed, and the friendship/relationship is dead. Without the presence of a palpable and verbalized unconditional love, I don’t ever feel secure enough to maintain a relationship with someone.

This stems directly from the way I feel about myself. I don’t believe I deserve friendship or love. It makes more sense to me that someone wouldn’t like me. I seek out cues to reinforce this belief whether they are there or not. It takes a LOT of weight and evidence in the opposite direction for someone to counterbalance my negative self-perception. Which can understandably be an exhausting dynamic for anyone without the predisposition to interact that way.

This is what I think it means when someone says you have to love yourself first. No, I’m not incapable of having meaningful, loving relationships. I’m fortunate enough to have several that I deeply value. BUT I would be available for forming close bonds with many different types of people if I had a higher amount of self-worth. My self-loathing makes it far too painful to be vulnerable with anyone that I’m not 100% certain will receive that vulnerability with positive regard and support. I’ve already rejected myself to such an extent that seeing that reflected by another person, whether real or imagined, is unbearable.

I don’t think you have to love yourself to love other people. But it does make it a hell of a lot easier.

Trying Too Hard

I can feel myself getting frustrated again. Picking at all of my perceived imperfections. Comparing myself to everyone I see, and feeling like I come up short. This cycle has become so familiar, but it doesn’t get any easier with repetition. One week I’ll feel good, motivated, like I’m making progress. Then the next I’ll feel utterly desperate about the futility of all the work I do for personal growth and self improvement. It’s particularly pronounced when it comes to my life-long struggle with body image.

Despite my best efforts to avoid the triggering, toxic images I used to purposely flood myself with online, somehow they’ve started creeping back in again. Perfect little vegan fitness models and casual yogis. It’s bad enough that they have bodies I could only dream of, but it stings in an especially painful way when I see just how much MORE work I put in for so much less satisfying and aesthetically pleasing results. I know I have a distorted view of my appearance to some extent. And I don’t think I look bad. But after years of diligent, intense, advanced exercise routines, I expected to actually look like someone who prioritizes fitness in their life. Not just someone who works out for 20 minutes once or twice a week.

Even when I’ve felt for years like I couldn’t possibly do any more exercise in a day, I’ve slowly added on more and more things. It never makes any significant or noticeable change though! All it does is make me feel obligated to continue at this more draining routine for fear I’ll somehow gain weight if I stop, even though I didn’t lose any when I started. I’ve recognized for a long time now that this is an extremely unhealthy mindset that impacts my self-esteem, my physical health, and my social life. Still I feel helpless to change it. My fear of looking worse than I do now is all-consuming. I feel resigned to this unsustainable, ever increasing physical workload that will never do anything for me besides keep me where I already am. A place that does not even bring me satisfaction or happiness. It’s no longer about progress, it’s about avoiding an even more pronounced level of self-hatred and disgust.

One thing I have been trying to convince myself of, is the importance of slowing things down/lessening my reps and speed in order to focus on truly good, mindful form and activating the right muscles when I’m moving. Logically I do believe this would be more beneficial. But that disordered, self-hating, fearful side of my brain panics at the thought. But what if I slow down and gain weight? What if I can’t pick it back up again? What if I do go back to what I’m doing now, but am stuck with whatever weight I may put on forever?! It’s these unhealthy thoughts that keep me from changing anything despite my dissatisfaction with my results or lack-there-of.

In the last ten or more years, I’ve never allowed myself a proper “rest” day from exercise. There have only been a handful of days I haven’t worked out, but even those days are not true rest because I workout extra the days before and after to “make up for it.” My ego takes some form of pride in this fact, while also cursing all the people I see taking regular rest days multiple times a week and looking 50x better than I ever have. I’ve just been believing that there is something wrong with me. Their bodies just work better than mine does somehow. Surely if I took rest days, I’d have made even less progress.

I’m beginning to finally open myself up to the possibility that isn’t the case. I was already toying with the concept of rest being valuable and important so that my muscles actually get a chance to heal and build themselves up stronger. I don’t really notice myself gaining muscle mass or strength with the way I’m doing things now. I basically stay where I am. In addition to that, I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of cortisol and weight gain.

I assume I have ridiculously high levels of cortisol in my body at all times, just based on my stress level. What I didn’t realize is that this may not be solely due to my anxiety disorder. Exercise naturally raises cortisol levels, which isn’t a problem in moderation and can even be beneficial. However, excessive exercise can lead to unhealthy levels of cortisol. I don’t think it’s up for debate whether the amount of exercise I’ve been subjecting myself to for the past ten years is “excessive” or not. Have I been shooting myself in the foot this entire time?

It seems too good to be true to imagine that I could do less and have the same or an even better body. My self-flagellating mind simply cannot accept that possibility. Then again, working harder hasn’t seemed to work out at all the way I thought it would. Maybe I really am doing myself a disservice by pushing myself so much. What if I was able to do less, better quality exercise, enjoy my workouts again, have more free-time, feel less tired and stressed, AND look/feel better in my body? It’s so difficult for me to contemplate, let alone begin to test.

I know if I really want things to change in my life and in my body, I’ve got to actually start doing things differently. One of the big road blocks in my way is the fact that to truly know if the changes I implement are working, I need to see where I am right now and monitor that moving forward. It’s so unbearable for me to weigh myself or, god forbid, take photos or measurements. *shudder* But I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll be too afraid to change anything because I might gain weight without realizing it. Dear god, I need a therapist so badly. Unfortunately I live in the greatest country on earth and that isn’t a feasible option for someone working full-time in the MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY!

My sheer ability to ramble on for so long about this topic is evidence that there is a problem. I want to follow that little spark of excitement and curiosity that tells me to switch things up. I know it’s worth it. I know it would be good for me mentally at the very least. I wrote something that struck me as profound last night while I was journaling: Fear is a powerful motivator. I am just afraid of the wrong things.

Motivation

Most days I feel like I’m dragging myself through life. Very rarely is there anything I feel myself wanting to do. I manage to get a lot done, but it’s more out of a sense of obligation (usually to myself/my OCD) than motivation. I’ve met so many people in life that seem to happily buzz around getting so many little projects done every day, with little to no mental effort. In fact it seems to refuel them rather than drain them. What gives? Why can’t I do that? I’m left endlessly wondering.

I have a few theories. One is that I commit myself to so many “have to’s” every day that I have hardly any energy left to feel motivated to do more. Perhaps not allowing myself any significant amount of true rest time, leaves me perpetually too burnt out to experience that sense of internal drive I so long for. But what if it’s just how my brain works? Maybe I’m just someone who is lazy and disinterested by nature. I think this last theory is really what keeps me from further investigating the first one. If I stop the momentum from years of diligent daily tasks, what if I never feel like picking them back up again? Then I’ll just end up doing nothing! That fear keeps me filling up each and every empty moment with something whether it’s ultimately in my best interest or just gives me the illusion of being productive in some way.

Part of the problem is being paralyzed with too many options. There are millions of things, big and small, that I’d like to accomplish one day. When the time comes to actually choose one to work on, I get distracted by all the others and start doubting myself. Which is most important? Which should I do first? Which matters most to me? Which would I enjoy more? Would I really enjoy any of them? What’s even the point? Then I usually default to an autopilot task just to find relief from thinking about it anymore and spiraling into an existential crisis.

I guess one of the few things I do feel motivated by is coming up with plans. I LOVE to make new schedules for myself, to-do lists, goals, ideas. All of that stuff is so much fun to think about and fills me with a seemingly endless supply of energy directed toward completing all my lists. However, when I find myself facing putting my plans into action in the moment, I lose all of that drive in an instant. It’s much more fun to plan to change your life than to actually change it. The idea of becoming a master piano player is way more exciting than practicing the scales for hours on end.

So here I am again, at this familiar impasse. My internal stand-off. I want to feel more motivated, but I’m not motivated enough to uncover and take the necessary steps to get there. Pretty ironic, isn’t it? Let me know if you have this same struggle or if you’re someone more like the people I mentioned earlier who don’t seem to have an issue getting into new projects with passion and enthusiasm. If you happen to have any tips or tricks from either perspective, I’d love to know!

Always & Never

Writing regularly really emphasizes
the way the inner voice likes to speak
looking back at the words it repeats
with such predictable frequency

Always and never, always and never
I feel these words ever present
on the tip of my tongue, on my fingertips
as I begin every new sentence

At first it just felt like lazy writing
repetitive words and phrases get dull
but it speaks to something much deeper
a glimpse into my tendency toward extremes

Universal qualifies that diminish and shrink
the possibilities open to me within the
inner model of my cordoned off imagination
two big boxes where every experience is placed

Strong nails hammered into the coffin of my capabilities
trapping me inside absolutes that cut and categorize
the world down into just two categories
making everything ultimate and inescapable

I'll always be like this
I will never be enough
I've always been alone
things will never change

Definitive diatribes used to dismiss
any potential for nuance or transformation
immovable iron bars that lock me
inside my own limited perception

Untruths that feel so true
thoughts with the heavy weight of death knells
held so tightly inside my chest that
I didn't see them until now

The Endless Cycle of Introspection

Sometimes it takes an impending change to jolt us awake. It feels like I’ve been running on auto-pilot for quite a few years now. I’ve begun to wonder who I am and what I really want again. The misty idea of where I’m heading has become all together obscured. Do I even want to keep moving in this direction? Have I been moving at all? Why did I start wanting all these strange things I’m pursuing? When one change comes, for some reason, it starts to feel more possible to change everything, to choose a different course entirely.

It feels so scary to let go of all the goals I’ve been clinging to and clawing at for all this time. But there comes a pivoting point where I have to ask myself if the person that wanted those things is even still me. I think the brain likes to default to routines and rituals to conserve energy. It’s tiring to always be asking yourself why you’re doing the things you do. It takes a lot of brain power to start something new.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to contemplate recently is my seemingly life-long body goals. I think right from the very beginning, I never truly believed I’d achieve them. Although, I thought I’d get closer than this. The image in my head is still a high-school girl. The popular one with the perfect body that all the boys try to talk to. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes. That image is unattainable. My window of opportunity (if it ever existed) is quickly closing as I stare down the last two years of my twenties. Am I still going to be chasing the “perfect” body when I’m 50? Perhaps it’s time to start loosening my death grip on that aesthetic before this uphill climb starts to become a desperate, inevitable decent.

Why was it so important for me to look a certain way in the first place? All my inner longing has just left me years of unappreciated youth and a blindness of my own strange form of beauty. I’m sure I’ll look back on the body I’ve had with envy soon enough and wish I had enjoyed it more instead of wishing it were different. Still this battle has lasted long over a decade. It feels so foreign to let it go, not to mention the crushing sense of failure and acceptance of defeat.

I guess overall, I’ve realized that all I really want is to enjoy where I am, wherever that might be in any given year, at any given moment. That’s all any of us can do. Anything else is just wasting time we could have spent being happy. But after 28 years of immense self-hatred and dissatisfaction, I don’t know how to turn my inner dial to “happy.” Sometimes I’ll catch myself realizing how much better I’d feel if I dropped all of my self-imposed obligations and just let life be what it is. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s true freedom.

My ego is always quick to chime in and say, “BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” It yanks me back into old habits much easier and more frequently than I find those moments of surrender. The older I get, the more apparent it is that I’ve let the driving force of my life become fear. Fear is what inspires nearly every action I take, every thought that swims in my troubled mind. I’m always afraid if I don’t do this, that will happen, or if I do that, this will happen. I’d much prefer to move from a place of curiosity and love. But fear is such a primal force. It is so powerful. It closes down my ability to love, to access that higher self inside. I’ve known fear so much more intimately and often than I’ve known love. I’m terribly sad to admit it. Do I still have time to change that? Was it ever really my choice?

Some days I feel like I have an immense amount of free will. It seems completely possible to change course and fall into new patterns. But other days it feels like I’ve never had any say at all. Everything I am and everything I have been feels like a heavy weight around my neck. Standing still is all I can manage. It’s hard to believe I can simultaneously be every aspect of the self I embody. All of the shifting selves I’ve ever seen staring back at me in the mirror. Were all of them me? Or am I none of them? Can it be both?

Getting to witness the unpredictable and constant nature of change is one of the privileges of growing older. There is a point as a teenager where it really feels like you finally know it all. But life doesn’t stop. You keep going. And you realize you never knew anything, that maybe you never will. For me there was a beautiful, mysterious comfort in that realization. What a relief to know all the dark certainties I once held about myself and the world were just illusions, transitory passing clouds of perspective.

A big part of me has stopped trying to pin down or predict what is coming in life. Maybe that’s why it suddenly feels more possible to consider enjoying the present. When you aren’t sure of anything, it becomes much harder to move with aggressive conviction in any one direction. It seems much more practical to just enjoy where you are in the journey. Life was never a trip from point A to point B. It’s an expedition, an adventure through uncharted territory. Tomorrow I may push aside the brush to find a beach or a desert or a cliffside or maybe just more endless forest. It’s frightening, but it’s also what makes life worth living.