“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?
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
In the meantime, I am going to continue to chronicle this pilgrimage back to Maryland, where the next chapter will begin.
Yesterday was the first time that Bryant and I went on any type of hike since we got to Corvallis. I don’t think that I realized how long it had been. I was so used to doing something every day while we were on the drive over from Maryland. Even before we left we tried to take Lionel out somewhere every day. Getting outside, exploring and adventuring was something we’ve always done together. Adjusting and getting settled here kind of distracted us from getting out.
As excited as I was and still am to be here in Oregon, there’s so much change going on that it’s gotten to be really stressful. All of the angst and worry had been building up and I didn’t really let it out in any way. I was so overwhelmed, feeling such turmoil and chaos inside. I felt like there were so many things and so many factors going into everything that I couldn’t couldn’t control and I couldn’t keep myself organized. It was overcast and chilly out, which made it harder to leave my safe, warm bed, but I’m definitely glad that we made it out of the house. Once we got there, I immediately skipped/bee-bopped/sashayed from the car to the trail and soon enough found my way off of the trail and into the woods, as usual. We took this path up a steep hill and into the woods. It looked like something out of some sort of fantasy. I feel like Bryant and I should have been dressed like woodland fairies.
After walking through at least 14 spider webs and falling 3 times, we finally made it to a clearing. That clearing turned out to be someone’s backyard littered with somewhat threatening “NO TRESPASSING” signs, which obviously we paid no attention to. We somehow made it back to the actual path and I immediately threw off my shoes and started cartwheeling and I climbed every tree I saw. All of that stress was gone and I felt so carefree.
I know that getting out into nature will make me feel better – it always does. When I feel like I just want to dig a hole to hide in and sleep for an eternity and a half is when I most need to make myself get outside. I absorb a lot that is going on around me and that can be really exhausting. Even right now there’s so much going on, just sitting here in the living room. It appears to be nice and calm – which it is – but at the same time, there’s so much more. I hear a fan in the other room, there’s a cat climbing into a box across the room, the sun is shining into the window in a weird way. Bryant is on the sofa tapping his foot, I hear someone biking by outside the house. Whether it’s something I notice intentionally or subconsciously, it’s there. Yesterday I was feeling that, plus everything in my head and all of the external things going on right now that I can’t control. 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. I really just wanted to hide under the covers all day, but Bryant and I decided that we should do what makes us happy and explore. We headed to Philomath, which is about a 20 minute drive from Corvallis to check out this spot called Fitton Green.
When we’re out in nature, I still notice and take in a lot from my surroundings. The grass blowing in the wind, there’s a bird flying by, little ants are making their way through the rocks and dirt… Even though it seems just as busy as any other setting, it’s a different kind of busy that’s hard to describe. There is so much movement, so much sound, so many sights and smells. The trees are just being trees. That bird is just doing his little bird things. The sun is doing all it knows how to do and is shining down on us. It brings such an overwhelming feeling of peace. Everything is just being, as it was meant to. Simple as that. It reminds me of this excerpt from The Way to Love by Anthony De Mello about unconditional love.
“What is love? Take a look at a rose. Is it possible for the rose to say, ‘I shall offer my fragrance to good people and withhold it from bad people?’ Or can you imagine a lamp that withholds its rays from a wicked person who seeks to walk in its light? It could only do that by ceasing to be a lamp. And observe how helplessly and indiscriminately a tree gives its shade to everyone, good and bad, young and old, high and low; to animals and humans and every living creature – even to one who seeks to cut it down.”
If only we could all embrace and practice that indiscriminate kind of existence. Just being who we are and what we are for ourselves and towards everyone else. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? I think that might be one reason why being out in nature is so soothing – everything just is. All of the confusing, stressful happenings in our everyday lives just don’t matter anymore. It puts everything into perspective for me. I’m thankful that we were able to get out yesterday and hope to continue to do so more regularly.
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.
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.
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.