“Sometimes my thoughts get so crazy, they’re like those little bingo balls flying around in that cage or like radio static while trying to tune into a station – any station, just something that comes through clear.”
Yes, I did just quote myself, thank you for asking. It’s an excerpt from one of the posts that I wrote soon after we moved to Oregon. That analogy is how I describe what goes on in my head sometimes. It can be so frustrating. I try so hard to focus, to pinpoint what may have triggered the anxiety or just to think and reflect. Something so simple can be really hard when all you have is a frantic swarm of bees flying around in your head. The blur of thousands of thoughts flying around and the buzz of the background noise that i can’t seem to cancel out. It’s like the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where Harry, Ron and Hermione are ambushed by the horde of magical flying keys. I could keep coming up with analogies but I think you get the idea.
I recently started to read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and was shocked and relieved to find him mention that exact experience. He describes how this mind haze is defined by the Toltecs – ancient Mexican women and men of knowledge. The Toltecs called it mitote. It is the chaos inside one’s mind described as a “poisonous, contagious virus” in which thousands of voices are speaking over each other and not a one understands another. Even if I am able to reach out and grasp one of these flying keys, these bingo balls, it doesn’t quite make sense. There’s some sort of disconnect. Even if I am able to tune into a radio station in my mind, there is still not enough clarity. That is one thing that I have trouble with. Clearing my mind. I’ve tried many things and so far the only thing that even kind of helps to alleviate the feeling is just to write it all down. Word vomit everywhere, just writing my train of thought, whether or not they’re concise thoughts. I’ve tried to meditate without much success so far. I try to spend time practicing these strategies and exploring new ones that may help. I want to develop the skills needed to calm the storm raging through my mind so that I really can take the time to reflect and think. What tactics have helped you to focus and to clear the mind?
A few weeks before my birthday this past summer, I couldn’t stop thinking, “My god… I’m almost twenty-two years old.” Twenty-two. I barely believed that I was going to make it past 18. But I did. And then I turned 19 and thought, “This is it. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m done”, but before I knew it I was 20. I kept going and I didn’t give. There were instances where that was the only thing I desired. All I felt I needed. I sobbed because all I desperately wanted was the ability to just give up. Something inside of me just wouldn’t allow it. Then I turned 21 and started hoping for better days. Now at 22, I’m doing what I can to make every day one of those “better days” I used to fantasize about.
It’s still a little ways away, but I’m already preparing for my next birthday because nobody likes you when you’re 23 (thanks, blink-182). I think I’m funny, whatever. Whether that’s true or not (the “nobody likes you” bit. I know I’m hilarious, that’s not in question), I’m going to continue growing and making the most of my life. I can do that because I’m alive; because I didn’t give up, I get to experience every single part of life. The beauty of nature all around me, of love, of life. I got this far and I’m not stopping anytime soon. Realizing this gave me the courage to keep live, to conquer challenges and to learn more about myself and about the world. That’s when I feel like I really because ready to live.
Today’s Daily Prompt is a pretty fitting one for where I’m at in my life now. The word “enlighten” has come to mean something different to me over these last few months. Out of curiosity, I searched Merriam-Webster for the dictionary definition of the word.
In the past, to enlighten simply meant to me to come to a realization about something; to have light shed upon something that was once dark. That still holds true, of course, but now my understanding is less two-dimensional. It now correlates more to the final definition given by Merriam-Webster. However, now my sense of the word is more difficult to verbalize in as concise of a way as the dictionary definition explains it. “Enlightenment” is used so broadly in so many contexts that it can’t really be pinned down to mean one specific thing. To become enlightened is more than just “Oh, I now understand the thing that once was unclear to me” and then moving on from there. It is a personal, complex, unique and spiritual experience.
For me, enlightenment goes hand in hand with awakening, becoming more conscious and living more intentionally. It goes with making the effort to learn as much as I can from people who have already made this journey; taking bits of their experiences as inspiration to create my own. Anthony De Mello, Eckhart Tolle, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, don Miguel Ruiz, Sam Harris and so many more. They have all adopted practices of enlightenment in one way or another in their lives and have been a huge inspiration to myself and countless others. Whether explicitly spiritual or not, the ideas and stories that they share provide the tools needed to take control of your life. Learning who you are, unprogramming yourself from society’s rules and living a more meaningful life. That’s what it means to me and that is what I strive to achieve.
Every day I try to read more of their writings or about the concepts mentioned in them, I try to write or listen to podcasts and watch documentaries. I try to incorporate these things into my daily life so that I can continue to learn, to change and to become more enlightened. I keep a running list on my blog here of things that have inspired me and been of value to me. So these are some of the things that came to mind when prompted to think about and write on the word “enlighten”. What does the word mean to you?
One thing that I’ve heard a lot over the years is how I – and others – are “battling” depression, “beating” depression. I guess that’s true. As hard as it gets sometimes, I’m going to keep fighting it and keep moving forward. If nothing else, it’s all I’ve done these past few years. I don’t like those phrases though because they insinuate that depression is something that must be defeated before one can live their life. That there’s something inherently wrong and needs to be fixed. Well, surprise everyone – I haven’t been fixed, I haven’t been cured but I’m still able to find happiness in life. I’m finding peace.
One of my new favorite artists and Instagrammers is Bunny Michael. They create “Higher Self Memes” that are posted daily. As they said in an interview with Posture Magazine, “the Higher Self memes are messages of self-love and expressions of how we can all treat ourselves better, that we are more powerful than we even realize.” One of the first ones that was shown to me was this:
I love their memes because they’re funny and relatable and so, so very spot on. I feel like the spiritual path, personal growth, recovering from living with mental illness… All of those go hand in hand. It’s never as easy as it seems. It sounds like growing spiritually would be a journey filled with rainbows and butterflies, but more likely it will be a stormy one. Even though I’m learning and growing, and I feel like I’m moving in the right direction, this journey is by no means an easy one. I still struggle, I stumble, I fall. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it can be painful. I have wanted to give up more than anything. But you know what? I know that it is worth it. Becoming more of a spiritual person, more enlightened, more aware isn’t just a trend or hobby, or a cool, hip thing that the kids do these days. It’s more than that. It’s a change in lifestyle that requires effort throughout your lifetime. It’s something that brings change, compassion, understanding and consciousness into your life and into the world.
People always say that it’s harder to break a bad habit. I always thought that would refer to biting your nails or picking your nose. Bad habits are easy to pick up and often go unnoticed until they’ve become an integral part of our daily lives, so much so that they’re hard to just let go. For example, I’ve spent my whole life being told certain things and being led to believe these false ideas about myself and my life. I wasn’t happy and I developed a negative way of thinking and of being. I used to be in such a bad place and I would go through these cycles, trying my hardest to develop good habits and practice self care and then falling back to square one. I tried everything. Nothing seemed to work. I honestly don’t remember how I got to where I am now, but I think that’s part of it. I wasn’t feeding into the negative as much. I didn’t actively participate in the defeatist attitude I had acquired. I didn’t always focus on it and let myself stew over all the negativity floating around inside me. Gradually, I was able to naturally pull myself out of that hole. Just by being. Existing. Becoming aware of all of this makes it a bit easier to move forward. That being said, it’s still hard as hell but I’m trying to understand more in order to find peace.
Since being back in Maryland, I’ve run into more than a few challenges and roadblocks but I’ve always found my way back on track. I really am trying to make a more conscious effort to do right by me and to do the things that will help me to continue on this journey. I signed up for a bunch of courses on Udemy that I am very eager to dive into. I’m teaching myself about photography. I’m reading more – right now I’ve picked up The Way to Love by Anthony De Mello again, as well as The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. I highly recommend both of these books to anyone and everyone. They’re such easy reads but are so eye-opening and powerful. I’m trying to get outside into nature more, too. Doing the little things that I know will aid me in increasing my physical, mental and emotional well-being. A couple of steps forward, a couple back, but I’m still trying and I’m still fighting. A lot of the things I write about are lessons that I have learned and am trying to put into practice into my own life. I am by no means an expert. I have to work really hard every day to unlearn everything that I have been programmed to accept and to reteach myself how to be.
What kinds of things do you do that help you get out of a funk? Or that you feel helps you grow and move forward? Or even just things that you do that make you happy, that you’re passionate about? I would love to hear about them!
80+ tortillas, 2 jars of peanut butter and 20+ energy drinks
A handful of new friends made
5 bagels, 7 muffins and 4 bananas taken from a Hampton Inn
Countless new experiences, lessons learned and adventures had
I’ve had a couple of days back in Maryland to try and settle back in and look back again on this trip. I did the math, mostly out of curiosity to get the stats from this trip. Miles and hours driven, gas used, states crossed, tortillas eaten… After having done all of that, it just became even more evident to me that the trip as a whole was absolutely unquantifiable. No set of numbers can describe this experience. No maps or data can really convey the nature of this journey. The way that this trek made me feel was both emotionally and physically draining and yet revitalizing. The adventures that we went on, everywhere that we explored. The gourmet meals we prepared, such as campfire pasta and an array of tortilla combos – peanut butter and Nutella, bananas, potato chips, granola, Taco Bell hot sauce… Any and all combinations you could think of. Sounds good, doesn’t it? That became our comfort food. All of these things (and more) formed every experience and every day on the road. I don’t have words to describe what an experience this trip was. I can try, but I don’t feel like anything I could come up would stand up to what it really was. I’m just happy to be back home (and in a real bed) so that I can begin a whole new adventure.
“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”
– Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
While on this trip back to Maryland, I’ve really come to realize how much of a hindrance expectations can be to an experience. Regardless of if it’s a positive or negative expectation, it’s unnecessary. There’s no reason to base what’s to come from past happenings or maybe on something that you think may occur in the future. Then, the concept of remaining in the present comes back. I’ve written about that before, but everything I’m learning and unlearning is connected. That’s starting to become apparent more and more to me; everything is connected and everything has a balance.
Whether it’s something as basic as a seemingly silly stereotype or something more complex like “What am I going to do with my life?”, I feel like I need to start letting go of those expectations and attachments. There were several instances on this trip where Bryant and I would find ourselves in potentially unfriendly and uncomfortable situations, based on where we were in the country. Granted, it was usually a bit over-exaggerated and done somewhat jokingly. However, being the only people of color and the only ones without camo and confederate flag embellishments wasn’t the most welcoming of atmospheres. That being said, we had gone into a couple of these environments hesitantly, with a “let’s just do what we have to do and get out” kind of mentality and were proven wrong in the best ways. The clerk at a gas station in Texas went out of his way to make a fresh cup of coffee for Bryant when we stopped late one night. We were in the middle of a 700+ mile trek from New Mexico to San Antonio and were beyond exhausted. Not only did this guy offer to make some coffee just for us, he also gave it to us for free for being patient for waiting. That definitely wasn’t my first guess at how that would go, us walking into a tiny gas station in the middle of Who-Knows-Where, Texas at 10 o’clock at night. Just the other night we were so hungry on the road and had gotten sick of tortillas and peanut butter – which we were running low on anyways – so we stopped at a Mexican restaurant in Tennessee. We had just passed an area on the highway where we just saw one confederate flag after another, which didn’t feel like the town would have good vibes. We walked in and were immediately greeted by the host and manager with big, genuine smiles. It was such a warm, friendly and fun environment. I’ve still got to remember to write them a good Yelp review. Those were just a couple of small instances where my expectations and the stereotypes that have been ingrained in my head were proven wrong by some really good people.
Situations like that have shown me that you really never know what might come of a situation and to go in with an open mind. When looking at the bigger picture, I often question myself and the possibilities for my future. It’s a pretty daunting thing, the future. I overthink and stress about it way too much. But why? It doesn’t even exist. I could set expectations or create scenarios of how things will go, but to what end? That will be of no benefit to me. I’m trying to learn to release some of the anxiety and tension that I have and be more open-minded and free in every facet of my life right now.
As we make our way to the East Coast, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this trip. I have learned a lot of things in the last few weeks. I reaffirmed that I love being on the road. I love the freedom we have, I love the change of scenery and I love the people that we’ve met. Everything is new and unexpected. So many things I never expected I would do in my life. I never thought that I would be so overjoyed to pay $2 for a shower. It was a privilege to do so. I never thought that I would become a master at making my “bed” in the backseat of a sedan at whichever Walmart was “home” that night. This trip has been unbelievable and wonderful, even as it’s coming to its end.
We’ve stopped at a cute little coffee shop so I could write a bit and to take a break. Okay fine, it’s just a Starbucks. I was trying to be hip but it’s 2017 so there’s Starbucks everywhere and they have free wi-fi and iced tea, give me a break. Back to the point – here are a few of the things that I’ve learned from this trip:
Being on the road has led me to appreciate certain things that we normally would take for granted. Easy access to restrooms and running water, for instance. The lack of public restrooms in certain areas was surprising (and unfortunate. Sorry, TMI). We’ve been brushing our teeth with bottled water. I literally washed our 3-day old dirty dishes in a bathtub. Wi-fi!! It’s been hard to adjust to not having wi-fi all the time. I’m a millenial, what do you expect? Gosh.
Although this trip has been great and full of amazing new experiences, it had its rough patches. As novel and liberating as living on the road is, it takes its toll. It can be really stressful after a long day to not know where we would be sleeping. Some Walmarts don’t allow overnight parking, which we really relied on. A lot of campgrounds are walk-up only and we wouldn’t arrive until after dark. We didn’t always plan or expect for that, so a couple of times we’ve been SOL without a place to sleep. We’d be scrambling to find somewhere, exhausted, late at night in an unfamiliar location. We always made it work though.
That’s another important thing I’ve learned about road tripping – who you’re with is really what dictates how the trip is going to go. Regardless, living on the road is going to be hard. That’s just a fact. There aren’t always ways to plan everything and even if there are, they rarely work out the way we would expect. We’ve spend days’ worth of time just driving (and getting lost). We would go days without a shower or a good hot meal. It’s draining and frustrating. Despite these trials, both of these treks have been more successful than I could have imagined. I got really lucky. Bryant and I work really well as a team and complement each other. We made it through obstacle we came across. Even when things got tense and we both were exhausted and irritable, we could take that step back to clear our minds and re-evaluate. Making the journey cross-country with limited funds and resources was daunting, but I had a good road trip buddy by my side.
Spending one night car camping after another did get pretty old. Just another night that my entire body will hold against me. I never really realized just how lucky I was to have a bed to come home to every night. It doesn’t even have to be a nice bed, just something other than the trunk of a car. The aches and pains have been (somewhat) alleviated by our daily hikes and excursions though. Whether it be a park, trail, historic downtown area or what have you, we made it a priority to divide the day with some type of exercise.
I’m going to wrap up real quick since we’re about to get back on the road and head to Memphis, TN. I’ll update when I can, but I’m just so excited to be home next week.