Choose you

We can learn that love is worth a risk and that to hide our love means to hide our true selves.*

Life is not fair. In fact, it’s all shades and levels of unfair. We never get all the things we desire. The people we love die. We fail. The ugly parts of ourselves come out. We work hard, we try to be kind, we do the best we can and sometimes we just don’t make it all the way.

It’s easy to suffer. Suffering is validation. We want to go to that dark hole and live there in our injustices because it’s a comfortable place. Yet, if we keep going there all the time, we never truly come out. We never see that life has much more beauty than we ever knew.

Many of us bet against ourselves. We believe we will fail before we even start. We claim defeat before the fight bell has rung.

Yet, we have the power to believe otherwise. We have the power to choose.

You can choose you.

When you’ve hit that wall for the umpteenth time, choose you.

When your heart is calling you somewhere different than where you “should’ be, choose you.

When loneliness and doubt trick you into a downward spiral, choose you.

When the embers of your passion flicker, choose you.

When the crutch of insecurity flirts, choose you.

Choose you and I will choose me and in doing so we will be the best versions of ourselves. We will find empathy and compassion. Let us not run from the truths of our heart for the stories of our minds. Let us choose to remain with what it is, accepting it is if we specifically chose it for destiny. Let us choose ourselves because the greatest love we possess is deep within.

Choose you.

*Normally I think it would be weird to quote myself but I shared this with my mentee tonight – the same one who often tells me, “Don’t pay attention to them if they make you cry” – and she said it made her cry. I thought others might like it. And it’s my blog so I will do whatever I want 

A date

Coffee

Before I went to the Peace Corps, I read A Beautiful Mess pretty obsessively. It was quite a different blog back then compared to what it was today and, while I don’t read it as often anymore, my favorite posts were the ones when Elise opened up about her personal life.

She often would talk about coffee dates with her now husband, Jeremy. Jeremy is a musician and Elise is, well, for lack of a better word, a creative. In the time I’ve followed her blog, Elise has been an artist, fashion designer, product designer, photographer, entrepreneur, author and blogger. Anyway, they are a couple that feeds off each other’s inspiration. Elise often mentions that the two of them go on coffee dates to specifically talk about goals and dreams, personally and professionally. I’ve always felt that the one I could be totally honest with in terms of what I want in life – preferably over multiple cups of coffee in the corner of some cafe – would be the one I keep.

Since Monday evening, my emotions have been out of whack, so much that I had to check if it was a full moon because I normally feel arise in the lunar cycle. It is not, and I can’t explain this crush of emotions. At one point, I didn’t think I could take another breath because the pressure on my chest was so great and, thankfully, a friend kindly responded to my messages with compassion and a reminder that I am alone in my feelings and that they are justifiable.

This morning was better until a problem arose with some frustrating and costly paperwork. I felt so defeated and unprepared for life and wanted to withdraw. While I was able to work through it and continue on, the little disturbance shook me and I realized I needed to sort of reground myself and get to the root of where this emotional flurry is coming from.

I’ve been wanting to take myself one of these inspirational dates where I sit with tea and my journal and allow myself to be completely honest, not only in my dreams but my fears and what’s holding me back. I’ve wanted, but I haven’t. I haven’t because it’s scary to look at yourself honestly. It’s scary to be vulnerable with others, let alone yourself. I haven’t because I secretly hope someone will swoop in and clean it all up for me.

But I am the only one who can turn my light up.

I tried to come with a million reasons not to go to the coffee shop after work but I kind of want to stop being the one who defeats me. So, I took my journal, ordered a cup of oolong and played some of Jeremy Larson’s music.

I wrote what I wanted.

I wrote what I feared.

I wrote why I am angry.

I wrote and wrote.

I did not solve all of my problems or suddenly fix my life, but I did shed some wisdom on areas that I refused to look at before. I was able to see myself from a compassionate perspective, loving the broken and the beautiful. I completely honest with myself and I let myself be heard without judgement, analysis or a plan.

We can’t always be the best versions of ourselves and sometimes life will be unfair and painful, but we can remember to treat ourselves kindly and to be the one who never stops rooting for us. It’s when we take time to buy ourselves a warm beverage and really listen that we can form love and trust, so that when we are ready we have the courage and faith flinging us to our greatest desires.

 

** Side note: During this little date with me, I made a huge revelation about some recent relationships. It hit my like “Woah, that is so true and why haven’t I noticed that before?” Then I was listening to two people talk about loss and they brought up the same I idea that sparked my revelation, which made me to realize that maybe I am not so far from my path as I think I am.

Be

0ba09e676581d1e7719fcc67ae28378b

Sometimes you wait.

Sometimes you let the situation be what it is without judgment or storytelling.

You do not try to control it or add to it, but simply notice the feelings and let them wash away like waves on a white sandy beach.

This is not a perspective that I’ve be able to harbor in most situations in my life, but as I start to understand my own life and the things that cause me pain and joy I’ve been able to notice some of my self-sabotaging behaviors. Controlling, accelerating, analyzing situations is quite the nasty habit.

This time though, I feel the top emotions and the deeper ones. I notice them all  and decided not to do more than that. It is what is, a statement I never thought I would be able to use as justification, seems applicable here.

“Be careful,” my friends say. “You’ve been here before and the outcome likely won’t be different.”

I do not know how it will work out. I do not know all the details. And I can’t guarantee that I won’t jerk in reaction tomorrow, but right now I feel stillness.

Hours later, I am full of emotions. “I am shaking,” I tell him as we walk out and find our normal route to the train. Our meditation group tonight talked about being with our anxiety and, although I’ve tried that all day, it’s hitting me not like a wave but like a freaking tsunami. “I am so full of emotions.” He laughs. I want to cry. But then I breathe. I stare at the wintery sky. It’s supposed to be a burden after such beautiful springish days, but now I find it reassuring.

This moment, full of so much energy and emotion, here I am meant to be. I am meant to use it up and let it propel me forward, because all I need is right here. The rest is details and stories I simply don’t need. It will all unravel but as long as I hold on to the present then I will not only stay above water but I will soar.

cheryl

The grass is greener

Myheart

Sunday mornings at coffee shops with bottomless roasts from Kenya and Guatemala and the temptation of croissants and cupcakes frosted in bright greens and pinks to match the anticipation of spring. I sip from a ceramic mug as I transport my emotions onto a word document.

Friday evenings that begin at a near by bar. We buy pints that seem inappropriately large but are excused with the notion that the weekend is now upon us. We take a cab to a far off neighborhood where we drink wine at a friend’s art show and match creative influences to our travel experiences. I forget to censor myself and I blurt out my dream as if I am clear that it is what I want.

Saturdays with runs long the beach and then grocery shopping. I pick out flowers and a few types of cheese. Friends come over later and we eat homemade dishes around candles and take turns picking out our favorite songs to share.

A play after work. A movie at the end of a long day. Yoga in white, clean studios. Clean sheets. Showers. City lights that never tire.

For two years, as I sipped herbal tea that I always felt guilty about buying because it was more expensive than the rooibos and therefore felt like a luxury, these images were my dreams.

My mind went to these thoughts when bleating sheep and screaming bo-ntate woke me up at 6 a.m. When my failure as a teacher was apparent to my students as well as myself. When I had to choose between rice and lentils for dinner for the umpteenth time. When I doubted my decisions to follow this path.

My time in Lesotho came with a very clear end date and I could anticipate the change because it was inevitable. It’s hard now, I thought to myself, but soon I will create the life of my dreams and I will be fine then.

Now, that I have most of what I dreamed of during those lonely nights in my rondaval, I stare off into space thinking of walking along the dusty road to my village. I dream of walking into my school grounds and seeing those faces again. I want to sip tea from my porch and watch the village from a distance. I crave the hustle and bustle of the taxi rank, the odd comfort of zoning out in a comvee and the satisfaction that comes from a huge plate of papa and mereho.

I’ve always wanted what I don’t have. It’s one of my greatest downfalls as a person, but I think it’s something we all do as humans. “The grass is always greener” is not just a nursery saying but a trap, an obstacle from our happiness.

To appreciate what we have when we have it is actually vey hard. Very difficult. It’s hard to be thankful for what we have when our minds tell us that we should have more. It takes a lot of courage, honesty and acceptance to look at your life and see everything you have as all that you need.

The idea that something better is out there is likely the pumping organ to my restlessness. I am constantly afraid of missing out and that I will be “better” if this happens or that comes into my life. I chase dreams and ideas but give up on them quickly because I am not convinced and want more.

But this is exhausting. Life is about achieving and accomplishing to find happiness rather about being content and resilient as life moves and shifts. One blog reader commented that I am so hard on myself and my determination to get the life I believe I should have that I forget all the blessings and miracles that already exist.

So how do you change your perspective? How do you stop looking for the fence and enjoy all that is in front of you? Gratitude.

Gratitude should feel incredible and humbling, but it’s scary. It’s terrifying to admit that what you have is enough because what if it isn’t? What if you are settling for less than you deserve? What if you are using gratitude not to chase as an excuse to stand still and not go after what you want?

The thing is, though, things will come and go from our lives. Sometimes we will be happy and sometimes we will be sad. We will have what we want and we will have what we don’t want. We can’t control what life brings us but we can control how we react. When we are present and thankful for all the current things in our life, we are living the moment just as we should.

I constantly feel like I am lurking backwards and stretching forward and in doing so I feel like I am reacting out of fear and habit instead of living from love and with intent. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I don’t want to keep searching and struggling for the thing that will fix everything, because nothing can. I want to be in the moment and grateful for all that it contains as if I chose it myself. I want to see my past as beautiful memories that have brought me to now and my future as hopeful but not a thing to agonize over.

I want to be thankful.

I want what I already have.

I want to be where I am.

 

 

There is a field

Rumi

Mondays are my favorite. I know that Garfield and Starbucks-obsessed people want us to think they are the worst, but I love Monday because on Monday evening I go to a mediation group.

It’s not a fancy meditation group with chants or ancient readings, rather a group of people from all wakes of life who come together and simply sit in silence. It’s two hours of my week that I devote just to being still, the beautiful act of listening to my body in the moment.

Normally we sit for 20 minutes, then do a walking meditation for 10 and then another 10-minute sit, however, this week we replaced the walking portion with a guided meditation. The group leader read the above Rumi quote and asked us to think of a person that we have a conflict with and, while several faces came to mind, there was one relationship that I know needs healing.

I’ve written a lot lately about letting people go but sometimes that is not just possible. Some people we simple just can’t cut out completely because of their proximity to our job, living arrangement or family and we must find a way to continue moving forward with them.

So when I was thinking of people to practice this meditation on I chose someone that I can’t cut out of my life. In my head, we went out to the field together. We looked into each other’s faces and grabbed hands. I was asked to see this person as a human and nothing else.

Honestly, this was not easy. I immediately wanted to protest that this person had wronged me and that I was right. I wanted an apology. I wanted someone to take my side. But I knew I needed to dig deep and find light and peace as I stared this other person. There is no wrong or right, just two humans trying to live through an experience together.

After we finished our meditations for the evening, the group discussed a reading and some of the emotions that popped up. One person mentioned how he gets caught in planning his argument to a situation that hasn’t happened.

I do this. All. The. Time.

I once stayed awake an entire evening while planning retorts to an argument over Lena Dunham. I am constantly thinking of things to reply to when people slight me. I imagine myself being hit with arrows before any have been drawn.

I have lots of imaginary arguments with the person I chose for tonight’s meditation. I plan exactly what I am going to say and the examples I will throw out. Funny enough, this person and I have never actually had argument. We’ve never gone out guns a blazin’.

Still, this person makes me feel like I don’t matter. This person rarely thinks about how decisions will impact me and that makes me feel worse than if I was just insulted.

Yet, this person is a human and trying to do the best this person can, just like the rest of us. This person’s actions are not about me and the seemingly lack of consideration is also not about me.

Sometimes I need to stop and remember that, no matter how irritated, frustrated and hurt I feel. There is a big difference between the facts and the story I tell myself and sometimes we need to put ourselves out into a field where nothing matters other than the two sets of expanding and collapsing lungs.

I walked out of meditation smiling and rejoicing. Although the guided meditation and trying to remove my judgement and ego from the situation was excruciatingly painful, it was a good practice and lifted a bit of tension that I have for the person.

Then I turned on my phone. A message from that person. The same lack of consideration.

I was seething all the way home as my light airy attitude hardened into anger and exhaustion. In an instant the peace I felt for this person was gone.

It would have been easy to get mad at myself for falling back into that pattern of wasted energy and joy, but I have to remember that I am human as well. We feel slighted and wronged but then we have to work our way out of it. We have to practice going back to the field over and over again and know that it is a practice.

Once I calmed down a bit, I saw that the person was actually showing me consideration and kindness in this particular situation, but I was just so used to taking residence in the being-wronged camp. This person was actually in the field and inviting me to come along. It won’t always be this easy, or this quick to get past the frustration, but I owe it to this person and more to myself to go to the field, to find that peace, in that person and in my self.

 

The Happy Middle

Her voice trembled with the pain of uncertainty. She shifted her body as she talked, the restlessness hanging around her like a scarf. She had just spent four years in South Korea, she told me, but came home because it felt like it was time. But now that she is here, she is fearful of being stuck and terrified that her adventures are behind her. We met just three times, at a meditation group in Wrigleyville, but one day she stopped coming. The twitch overcame her and she was off again.

There have been times when I have been this woman, anxious for the next and afraid that being still meant missing out. Impatient in each place because my purpose wasn’t immediately revealed, I floated through experiences trying to find the one that fit my soul.

The first time I heard someone use the word wanderlust I immediately knew that I wanted that to be my descriptor as well. This wanderlust had beautiful blue eyes and we spent afternoons in coffee shops, him describing his adventures and me my planned adventures. I dreamed of being a vagabond, but it wasn’t until I met this Viking that I had any courage to do so. When he pushed me away, I fell into the arms of stuffed backpacks and the beds of benches in bus stations. I became wanderlust, in occupation and heart.

Last February, shortly after arriving backing the U.S. from three and half years in the Peace Corps, I had a decision to make: I could take a job, my first in nearly four years, or I could join my friend Nick on a road trip through the western part of the country. I knew that the suitable thing was to re-establish an adult life, but I was scared that if I committed to that it would be my fate forever. I wanted freedom and to sleep in cars and to binge-watch the countryside from a dirty windshield, but Nick knew what I needed. Take the job, he said.

Less than two weeks after I arrived in D.C. and started my job there, I got an email about a job in Chicago with the Peace Corps. I went home and cried that night because I knew right then and there that I would have to disappoint a bunch of people and take that job.

There were a lot of reasons I took the job in Chicago. The city was closer to home, a better fit for me. It was with the organization that I love, and another chance to feel like a nomad, moving again to another place I had only been once before. But the job was also only a 13-month contract. A minimal commitment, a forced out.

While such a short-commitment is unsuitable for someone with a family or a house payment, it was perfect for someone with a roaming heart. I wanted the universe to tell me what to do next and, at the end of 13 months, I could leave or I could stay, but I would let the universe lead me to that decision.

There have been times where I put out my intentions into the world, only slightly, and the universe has brought them to me. One day I thought to myself that I wanted to get a subscription to a certain magazine and then a few days later my sister-in-law sent me a link to a free one upon completion of a survey. Or the time I decided I needed flowers to brighten up my days and I received a beautiful bouquet from my parents. In these times, just merely asking is all the universe needed.

I said that I would let the universe decide what I should do beyond my work contract and I would go with it. In a rare change of character, I wasn’t worried about my future and truly believed things would work out.

A few months ago, things at my office began to shift and it was made official this week that my contract was expanded to the full five-year contract. My time in Chicago will not expire come September; rather it’s expanded into years. This is where I could stay instead of running off.

My friend Sean recently told me that Chicago is my happy middle. He said it is not where I began and it will not be where I end, but it is where I can stay and explore my being within a new home.

I am 30 now. My wanderlust is still there and my purpose, largely, is unknown. While I enjoyed being a nomad in my 20s, I understand that it’s time for me to stay in one place for a while. This new contract confirms that. I need to pay off loans, find my go-to coffee shop on rainy Sundays, pick out my favorite place in the city, go to yoga class. I need to learn who I am when I am not going from place to place and watch myself grow from the roots.

It’s good to explore and wander through experiences in order to grow and learn more about yourself, but there also comes a time when you need to stay still and see the things about you that can’t come out when you are searching. That’s where I am and it’s on this journey that I will find the wisdom and courage for the next thing. But here I stay, embracing the happy middle and believing it’s where I am needed.

 

Just be you

“Just be yourself,” T said in a text message.

In attempt to sort of put myself out there, I joined a trivia league, by myself, knowing I would be put on a team with random strangers who may or may not know each other. The league lasts for only five weeks and there are six people on team. Plus, it only cost $20. So, on Sunday full of hope and gumption, I signed up.

On the launch night of the league, I was the first of my team to show up. I waited about 20 minutes before anyone else arrived and, in that time of patience-less, I texted T. I was nervous that my team wouldn’t show up, or that when they did they wouldn’t like me. T told me to just be me and if I did that then I would be OK. He then told me to put my phone away and enjoy myself.

I had only met T a few months prior and it struck me how much he understood how I operated and how he knew what I really needed to hear at that moment. It took me a second, and then I realized why.

The day I met T I was bouncy. I cracked weird jokes and everything I said came out with energy and life. I was charming and warm. Funny and sweet. Another person I met that day remarked that every time he saw me I was dancing.

I recognized my energy that day and it sort of took me by surprise because I hadn’t seen it that intense in a while. It wasn’t until T sent me the message on the night of my first trivia night did I realize what had happened that day – I was myself. Unrestricted. Unapologetic. Just me.

And that’s how I got to this moment with T where I was seeking comfort from him in awkward time. I was me, he embraced that, and we started a friendship in authenticity.

I’ve been in a lot of new and uncomfortable situations in the last year, from moving to D.C. and then to Chicago. I’ve been on awkward dates and in social circles where no one knows what to say. I’ve tried to be pieces of myself, putting out only the parts I think others would accept, and have come up empty handed. Yet, in the rare moments when I have just unleashed me – in all of my loving, sweet, chaotic, messy ways – I’ve found something honest and true. It’s in those times I’ve made the friends I can call at 2 a.m. if I am locked out or the people who will come when I invite them to something. It’s when I forget about impressing other people and their opinions and just let that light shine that I am given what I need.

Being true to yourself, as cliché as it seems, is incredibly difficult, yet one of the best things we can do for ourselves. It may take us some time and maybe we can’t be that way with everyone, but we owe it to our wonderful unique selves not to hold back. Rather, to be everything we are, blemishes and all.

I saw T’s message, and I put down my phone. I bounced a bit and then made a weird joke. I was sweet and funny. Caring and charming. I don’t need people to like me, I just need to be me.