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.

 

almost home| 10.06.17

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.

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Our humble abode on the road

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:

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HOPE Outdoor Gallery, Austin, TX

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.

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San Antonio, TX

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.

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Crater Lake, OR

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.

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Pacific Hwy 1

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.

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Santa Fe, NM

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.

vegas, baby | 09.29.17

We’re using today as an “off-day” of sorts. Getting some errands done – laundry, stocking up on tortillas and peanut butter, cleaning the car a bit. Just spending time in and around the city, it’s so crazy just how different everything is here compared to back in Maryland. The landscapes, the weather (specifically the absolute lack of humidity), the people, the architecture… It’s definitely new and refreshing.

Last night we had driven about 6 hours straight from Fresno to Las Vegas. We did the basic tourist-y things when we arrived around midnight. We took a picture next to the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and we drove down the Strip and then called it a night at a local Walmart.

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Paris, Las Vegas

I had originally planned to spend today doing some of the common activities in Vegas (don’t worry, Mom – we would have skipped the strip clubs and casinos anyways). This morning we weren’t really feeling it. We kind of had a vague idea of what we wanted to do and then even that changed. That’s one thing that I really appreciate about being on the road. Not having a strict itinerary or schedule. We can do whatever we want. We prioritized and instead of wandering downtown among the commercial and the excess, we’re getting done what needs to get done and then we’re headed to the Hoover Dam and Lake Meade. Even though I know it to be true, sometimes I need to remind myself that being outdoors is always healthier for me. As much as I do enjoy spending time in cities checking out iconic spots, when it comes down to it I always feel better when I spend time in nature.

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Waiting at the laundromat usually is no fun, but we are in Las Vegas, which seems to have its own unique spin on things. There are arcade games and slot machines here. We decided to put aside about $15 for the slots and it definitely paid off! I ended up earning over $110 and Bryant got about $0.80. A successful day for sure. Who knew we would walk away from washing our clothes having made a profit? I guess that’s Vegas for you.

on the road again | 09.26.17

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Lyons, OR

After an extended pit-stop in Corvallis, we’re back on the road. As I’m writing this now, we’re leaving Sacramento on our way to Yosemite. We’ll be stopping in Arizona, Nevada and Utah to explore the national parks, New Mexico to make some alien friends and then onward through Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee… Wherever we end up is where we’ll end up. Eventually, we’ll make our way back to the East Coast. Until then, it’s time for all of the adventures and exploring we can manage and more.

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Crater Lake, OR

Remember that one time that I was like “I moved to Oregon!!” and now I’m referring to my time there as an “extended pit stop”? It’s not that there was anything wrong with Corvallis or with Oregon. It’s not that it didn’t feel like home. Corvallis was a cool place and it gave us the opportunity to meet some truly incredible people. So then why did we leave? Nice place, nice people, good jobs, a nice house… Nothing was wrong. But it just wasn’t right either.

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Pacific Coast Hwy

Leaving Oregon had nothing to do with my physical, geographical location, but rather with where I’m at in my own life. In my own mind. As much as a part of me wants to settle down and make somewhere home, I don’t know that I’m quite ready for that. The things I want to learn, discover and grow within myself are infinite. Although my physical location isn’t what really matters for this journey, I feel like going back home to Maryland is the best way to facilitate the process. I am so grateful for my sojourn in Corvallis and for all of the people I’ve made friends with. I’m just as excited that we’re back on the road and get to experience so much as continue to trek across the country. And I truly am excited to go back home to Maryland. I miss spending time with my parents, with my pup, with my friends and really spending time with myself. These past few months have been a whirlwind and I’ve made some of the greatest memories in that time. I’ve learned a lot too. I feel like I have some direction I want to go in now, but I haven’t made the effort to really focus on it. At least not in the way I think that I need to. I plan on doing so much when we get back to Maryland and I am so eager to continue this grand odyssey.

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Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA

In the meantime, I am going to continue to chronicle this pilgrimage back to Maryland, where the next chapter will begin.