enlighten | 10.22.17

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.

Enlighten \in-ˈlīt-niŋ, -ˈlī-tᵊn-iŋ, en-\
transitive verb

1. archaic: illuminate
2a. to furnish knowledge to: to instruct
2b. to give spiritual insight to
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?

via Daily Prompt: Enlighten

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fighting the good fight | 10.20.17

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.

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Beale Street, Memphis, TN

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:

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@bunnymichael

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!

by the numbers | 10.12.17

  • 5,100 miles, 100+ hours driving
  • 17 days
  • 11 states
  • 3 National Parks
  • 10 nights Walmart car camping
  • 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

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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 | 10.08.17

“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.” 

– Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

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Grand Canyon, South Rim, AZ

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.

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Campground in Stow, OH

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.

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Ledges Overlook, Cuyahoga Valley Nat’l Park, OH

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.

 

home, sweet home | 08.09.17

I thought that I would be writing this post while waiting for my flight to DC. Instead, here I am; slouched on a futon in our friend’s living room typing up this post. Things happen, plans change – that’s life. We’ve been running with it from the beginning and it’s been working out pretty well.

Bryant and I traveled over 3,500 miles in 14 days. That’s 12 states, 3 time zones and way too many hours in the car. We did so many incredible, exciting and new things. This definitely was a trip of “firsts”; from Bryant’s first boat ride in New Jersey to my first time at a hot spring in Oregon. We visited some great natural wonders and just about every flea market in between. We now have plenty of memories from this trip that will be with us for this lifetime and the next.

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Craters of the Moon, Idaho

The plan was to leave Maryland on July 26th and drive across the country. We didn’t have much of a plan, except for a few things we definitely wanted to visit along the way. Just so long as we arrived in Oregon in time for my flight back to Maryland on August 9th, we were free to do whatever we wanted. We made it here with a couple of days to spare and spent it with friends, exploring the town. We had all of yesterday to spend with our friends, so we planned an outing and game night followed by an early bed time so I could get up in the morning to head to Portland. A couple of hours into our outing, I felt a pang of emotion. I didn’t want to leave Oregon. But I just said to myself that sometimes we have to do things that we don’t necessarily want to and that’s life. I’d be back later in the year anyways. Hopefully. So I was going to do what I had to do which was get on that plane back to Maryland in the morning. Almost the same moment that thought went through my head, another one came up – I really don’t have to get on that plane back to Maryland. And now here we are.

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These past few days have been a whirlwind but I am so excited for what’s to come. Instead of spending my entire day at the airport, waiting in Denver for two hours on my layover back to the DMV, I get to be right here. At home.

being here | 08.06.17

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past but we can’t relive it; and we hope for the future but don’t know if there is one”

– George Harrison

Time truly is misleading; it can be complicated and confusing. But when it comes down to it, it’s really pretty simple. All we have is right now.

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Jackson Lake Dam, Grand Teton National Park

I was originally going to call this blog Sempiternal Ataraxia, meaning an everlasting and eternal feeling of emotional tranquility. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s an impossible and unattainable ideal. Nothing lasts forever. We all wish that some things could and we also wish that some other, less pleasant experiences and feelings would disappear. We can’t control those things and so they’re not worth wasting our energy worrying over. It’s also not worth spending our limited time and energy striving to achieve this non-existent feeling of eternal peace. I think that what really matters is that we try to realize what we have right now. I spent a lot of time – and still spend too much time – worrying about all of the “what ifs” of the future and the regrets from the past. It’s not worth it. You can’t change the past – what’s done is done – and the future doesn’t really exist. I’m working on channeling that energy I would be spending on worrying into experiencing the present. Into right now. Love, beauty and life are multi-faceted. In order to fully experience them, we must feel both the ups and the downs, the joy and the pain. Sometimes we just need to put aside the stress and negativity. Today is a beautiful day. Take the time to embrace it. Live for right now.

Idaho Falls, Idaho

light | 08.02.17

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High Trestle Trail Bridge, Madrid, IA

Sometimes, we might feel lost without a sense of direction or purpose. I was feeling very stuck and unsure of the future for a long time. We all need to find some sort of light to guide us and to ignite our passions. As cheesy as it might sound, I found that light in Bryant. His confidence, energy and spirit are so beautiful, strong and contagious, even. He has always and continues to inspire, motivate and empower me to better myself every day. The more and more time we spent together, I soon came to realize that the light I saw in him wasn’t what was powering me to move forward. It was the light inside of myself. Little bit of a nerd alert, but one thing that it kind of makes me think of is a particular scene from Lord of the Rings – go ahead, start laughing if you want. Galadrial had given Frodo the Light of Eärendil, saying “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out”. Later when Sam and Frodo are entering Mordor and come across the spider, Shelob, they used that light to drive her away and to guide them through the web. What I’m getting at is that the light was given to them by Galadrial, but they were the ones who made use of it. The light served as a valuable tool to get them out of that situation, but they would never have escaped if they themselves didn’t have the courage and strength to fight through it. We all have that light, that fortitude. It just might take some time to find it and we may need some help now and again, but it’s always there.

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Maquoketa Caves, Maquoketa, IA

We are all capable of so much and I don’t think that we always give ourselves enough credit. Saying “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for so and so” I think is still a valid statement. Over the last several years, I have had amazing support and love from some very important people in my life. I don’t know where I would be without them. But one thing I needed to realize and to remind myself is that even though they were there for me through everything… so was I. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for me. I vividly remember the night that I finally came to that epiphany. I remember hanging out at Bryant’s house, word vomiting all of my feelings. Really just spewing my train of thought and all of a sudden I said “Oh my god… I’m the reason I’m still here. I got myself here. It was me“. Once I realized that, it was like a door to a whole new world opened up. Warm, fuzzy feelings and light spread everywhere, angels started singing and there were butterflies and rainbows, too. That thought was almost like in the movie Inception – Leo DiCaprio’s character said it perfectly… Yes, I’m about to quote another film. I used to watch a lot of movies, okay? He said that “an idea is resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.” Sounds a bit scary, especially if it’s referring to people who are planning on bouncing and poking around in your brain trying to manipulate your dreams and influence your thoughts, but that fine, whatever, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Once I was able to verbalize and form that idea into a coherent thought, that shed light on an entirely new perspective and way of thinking for me.

Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Finding that light within ourselves is vital; becoming educated on awareness and enlightenment is kind of what helped me to see that light in me. I still barely know anything when it comes to all of that, but I have already made such a huge change in my life and I’m eager to keep improving and learning as much as I can. Something that I’ve learned over the last several months and on this trip is that facing fears is also a huge part of it. I have become more adventurous and I have rediscovered that sense of curiosity that I remember having when I was younger. I’m scared of heights but I’ve climbed mountains. I don’t like certain foods but I’ve been cooking meals for myself and Bryant that I normally wouldn’t even think of going near. I have always been pretty shy when it comes to people, which is still true to a point. I’ve been able to get out more and put myself out there more than I ever have before. Stepping outside of my comfort zone and proving to myself that I really can do a lot more than I thought I could has really boosted my confidence and given me a sense of accomplishment that has fueled me to keep doing more and more.