12/19/16 ““We are most of us two people, your Highness. There is something lacking in the man who is one thing only . . .” ― Robert Aickman
I’m sure you’ve been wondering where I’ve been . . .
When I started this blog 11 months ago, I had no idea if anyone would read and follow. I launched the blog because I have a story to tell, a story of self-evolution. My plan is to write a book, and the blog was the first step toward that goal. The blog provided me a space to organize my thoughts and recreate my journey. It was a magical forum that was both cathartic and empowering. Surprisingly, people started to follow; not surprisingly, people started to be inspired and encouraged. To date, the blog has not gone viral, and I don’t have thousands of followers, but I can honestly say, from the comments people post, to the emails I receive, to the verbal affirmation my closest friends share with me – I know that this blog was predestined to reach the right people at the exact moment in their lives when they needed to be encouraged.
Those who know me only the last decade, can’t understand the depth of my transformation. Many years ago, and most of my life in fact, I was quite unbalanced. I was constantly striving, continually stressed, consistently unfulfilled, yet I pushed on, never considering there was another option. On the outside I looked like “me”, but on the inside I was in conflict with myself. It wasn’t until I was in that magical space of Costa Rica back in 2009 that I discovered serenity. Because of my inclination for writing and my passion to develop others, I created the blog. I knew my quandary was not unique; I knew that many of us deal with duality and that some of us don’t know how to find peace in the midst of the chaos.
According to the dictionary, duality is defined as an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something; a dualism. My life had direction and purpose: I was a mother, a wife, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a teacher, a leader, a . . . but my life did not offer me personal peace. I felt like I had to “put on” some of those roles and often felt that fulfilling some of those roles took every ounce of fortitude and perseverance I could pull from every cell of my being. The Urban Dictionary defines duality as the opposite of reality, meaning that it is the nightmare or the dreamland in which people live. I can’t go so far to say that my life was a nightmare, but it certainly was not a dreamland!
As followers of my blog, you know my journey of self-discovery that has led me to embrace serenity. I still hold all of those roles listed above, but now I AM NOT those roles. Those roles do not define me; they are things I do – not who I am– big difference. In essence, I found a way to hold the line to my truest self and have made peace with duality (dreamland!).
However, as each trip around the sun brings new discoveries and challenges, I find myself again struggling with a different duality: through the blog, I’ve opened the curtains to the window of my life and shared my authentic self. It was a safe space to be raw and real. But, when we “prostitute” ourselves on social media, we take risks of being misunderstood, of being misquoted, and being misrepresented. Personally, I really don’t care about any of that; I’ve always been the type of person who focuses on the people Dr. Seuss describes as “those who mind, don’t matter, and those who matter, don’t mind”. But since everything we do serves some purpose, I’ve made some professional changes that serves a greater purpose than professional accomplishment and advancement (it’s what I do, not who I am).
As you probably realized I’ve been quite lately, and I owe you an explanation. As I enthusiastically make preparations for early retirement to fulfill my dream of spending my future surrounded by the serenity in Costa Rica, I have taken a job as an Assistant Principal at a large, local, urban high school. It is both what I’ve spent my whole career preparing for and it provides the means to my end – it offers me the financial pathway to save for my exit plan to Costa Rica. So yes, it’s very demanding; yes, I work a lot of hours; and yes, I often need to reset my balance, but it is exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I’m suppose to be doing, right now.
Having said that, I am again forced to deal with duality. I’ve been struggling with the dualism of personas: the bohemian blogger and the polished professional. This no longer causes me an internal struggle (thank God), but there is definitely an external role conflict. Until I figure out a way to exist in the global community as “the serenity seeker”, I am taking a hiatus from promoting myself on social media.
I will not abandon PuraVidaQuest, and I certainly will not abandon sharing my search for serenity, but for now, I won’t be posting through my personal Facebook page, and without social media promotion, my blog most likely won’t flourish.
I’m sorry it took me so long to be able to share this decision with you. It was not an easy decision to make, and I’m not promising that it will last long, but what I am promising is that I’ve come too far in my quest for serenity to allow any type of professional/personal struggle to unhinge my balance, so stay tuned; who knows what the next rotation around the sun will bring.
10/4/16 – Quote from my inaugural trip to Costa Rica, lesson 82: “I have learned that I want ‘who I am’ to be more prominent than ‘what I do’”.
Six years ago, spending a week in solitude, excavating my soul to determine my truest self, I had this profound realization, but as I recently attended my 30th year class reunion, I almost permitted this life lesson slip away . . .
Having quit high school at 16, I have always felt that I had something to prove. People who don’t know my past, who only know me as a high school vice-principal have no idea of the alternative path I took to reach what many deem “success”. But most of my high school peers whom I’ve lost touch with over the years don’t know. So, as I anticipated my 30th year reunion, I was excited for the opportunity to set the record straight. I wanted people to know that although I had not followed the traditional path of marriage and then children, my detour was not a dead-end street. I was excited to be able to let everyone know that my past did not determine my future; I was more than a teen mother statistic; I did not remain in that dysfunctional teen-bride relationship, and I had worked my way from school drop out to school leader.
But, as I began mingling, someone asked me about my 32 year old son; someone who had taught him in middle school when he was just beginning to dabble in drugs. I was proud to convey that my son, the recovering heroin addict, is doing well – that he is alive, not in jail, and no longer strung out. And that quick I remembered what’s really important in life!
Not long after that, someone approached me and told me how much they enjoy reading my blog, and that’s all it took to shake my pretensions and diminish my insecurities. Costa Rica is my passion. It’s where I feel most genuine. And, it’s my future. I LOVE talking about Costa Rica. I was thrilled to know that because I chose to be authentic, because I decided to share my life lessons learned in Costa Rica, because I determined to encourage others to seek adventure, because I dared to blog and share my stories with the world, I was inspiring others. It no longer mattered to me that everyone knew about my career. I wanted everyone to know about how Costa Rica shook my soul and redirected my future. I am no longer defined by what I achieve, what I do, and my degrees; I am redefined by my Pura Vida manifesto: I seek to maintain and exude “the pure life”.
Although I have temporary lapses where I get caught up in the conventions of my surroundings, my definition of success isn’t about fancy cars, impressive titles, and achievement awards; my ideal of success is early retirement, investing in others, spending time with those I love, and enjoying peace and serenity. I don’t need a fancy house in the suburbs, I long for a hut on the edge of the jungle where I can hear feel the ocean breezes and hear the monkeys howl.
Costa Rica has taught me many valuable lessons, but the most important lesson I learned is to honor my true self. Not the self that circumstances produced; not the self that society told me I should be; not the self that was most apparent; not the self that was easy, but the raw, real, unapologetic, self that God created me to be – the one that took courage to discover and the one that takes determination to maintain – the self that I am without regard to or relationship with anyone else . . . just SELF! Won’t you take some time to look deep within to discover your true essence?
8/19/16 “Everyday Adventures”
Not everyone can take a leave of absence from their life to run off and tour three countries in a year as Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love.
Not everyone would be able to be sequestered on a Greek isle for several months, like Daphne Kapsali did in 100 Days of Solitude.
Not everyone could give up the norms and conventions of life in the United States, sell everything, end a thriving career, and leave behind friends and family to begin a new life in Costa Rica, as Juls Amor did in The Year of the Frog.
Not everyone would risk hitchhiking across Europe for six months like Jamie Bowlby-Whiting chronicled in The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World.
Not everyone can take vacation for eight days to traipse off to Costa Rica in search of serenity as I did (several times) chronicled here on my blog.
So often people tell me how much they admire my adventures. They ruminate and fantasize and covet. I often hear, “I wish I could do that, but . . .”
The list of “buts” vary, but essentially: obligations, responsibilities, and commitments prevent many people from pursuing daring adventures such as those listed above.
But EVERYONE can have EVERYDAY adventures . . .
For those of you are currently living in “but” limbo land, I can offer you two pieces of advice:
- Stages in life are not permanent, so begin dreaming and planning for future grand opportunities, and
- Start practicing! Begin creating everyday adventures now.
Adventures rarely “just happen”, so you must make plans.
Everyday adventures are little ways to keep your life exciting.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, on an extremely hot day, I decided to visit a lake. While I spent the majority of the day, lazing on an inter-tube, I took advantage of the opportunity to have an adventure. Instead of just watching and admiring the teens flying through the air, I took a risk, swam out to the dock and prepared for the unknown. Although I was not sure I would be able to hold myself up long enough to actually complete a full swing and graceful release, I pushed myself to try the trapeze and had a blast flying through the air. With some new confidence, I then proceeded to climb the 12 foot ladder, walked the plank, and jumped off the high dive. Certainly, the kids and teens wondered what this middle-aged woman was doing. Of course, I was scared, but I was having an adventure! The butterflies, the racing heartbeat, the sweaty palms all reminded me of years earlier when I undertook a much grander adventure . . . set amidst the unequalled beauty of a Costa Rican forest wilderness, I pushed myself to experience the longest, most exhilarating canopy tour in the world. Comprised of 21 exhilarating zip-line runs, Ms. Sky Canopy Tour traverses majestic mountain ridges and valleys, soaring hundreds of feet above multiple ravines, with breathtaking vistas of rivers, waterfalls and the Pacific Ocean. This truly was one of the most frightening activities I’ve ever experienced! So although, swinging on a water trapeze and jumping off the high dive platform seem mild in comparison, on that hot day last July, it was not a contest; there were no comparisons going on; I did not feel like I compromised – I merely enjoyed my everyday adventure.
A few weeks ago, I decided it was again time for an adventure. I wanted to do something I had never done before and I had the day open before me. On the spur of the moment, I decided to walk several miles (even though my perfectly good car sat in the garage), caught the public transit bus, entered the train station, asked where the next train was going, bought a ticket for Philadelphia and boarded the eastbound train. No plans. No schedule. No maps. No companions. No expectations. I just wanted to do something I’d never done before. It ended up being a wonderful, everyday adventure. I ate great street food; I got the opportunity to sit and swing in the pop up park outside the 30th Street Station; and I had several glorious hours of freedom, which I spent secretly people-watching. It’s good sometimes to get out of our bubbles, to allow ourselves to absorb new surroundings, to push ourselves to attempt new feats. It’s good sometimes to face the unknown, to discover new neighborhoods, to experience diversity. Yes, it can be scary; yes, I was uncertain of how the day would end and whether or not it would be enjoyable, but through the uncertainty and fear, I proceeded because I needed an adventure. No, it wasn’t the same type of adventure I had when I went to Costa Rica for a week of Spanish language immersion, living with an unknown host family (who spoke NO English), but it was what I could do with a day off work.
Maybe none of these things sound interesting or even possible for you, but the point is: adventures are awaiting right in your own backyard.
Think of things that ignite your flame. What makes you smile or laugh? What would get your heart racing? What would push you to the edge of your comfort zone? What is something you’d do today if no one needed you to do anything else? Do that!
“Live the life you love; love the life you live.”
7/23/16 ~ “Selfish? NOT!”
Why is it if we workout and take care of our physical bodies, people think we are motivated; if we take care of our medical issues, people think we are responsible; if we take care of our family and friends, people think we are committed; if we take care of our minds, people think we are wise; if we take care of our bad habits or addictions, people think we are strong; if we take care of our fears, people think we are brave, but if we take care of our souls – if we do what we know we need to do to be happy, why do people think we are “selfish”?
I recently returned from an 8-day rescue mission. My soul was screaming for realignment, which meant I had to disconnect from my family, my friends, my job, my responsibilities, my entanglements, my life in the United States. I needed to once again find my center, and I needed solitude.
Beaches, especially those in Costa Rica, always provide me the best rehabilitation. So I planned a brief sojourn to refresh my soul. It had been six years since my last solo journey. It was during that initial soul-awakening adventure, that I learned how to reclaim my balance. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this is an ever present struggle.
I’ve always been hypersensitive to the problems of others. I can intuitively assess an issue and easily communicate a solution (whether my guidance is requested or not). I completely and quickly absorb myself in solving the problem, easing the pain, or overcoming the obstacle. In doing so, for most of my life I often felt overwhelmed and overburdened. That was until I embraced my personal-care philosophy. For the past six years, I’ve been striving to maintain balance, which means that I occasionally put my needs and wants before those of others. Hence, my recent trip to Costa Rica.
Just recently I learned about (and accepted) the label of being an EMPATH. Being AN empath is different than being empathetic. Empaths’ lives are unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive, and it’s not just limited to emotions. An empath’s mind is inquisitive; we are constantly searching for answers. We theorize and philosophize constantly. Empaths can perceive physical sensitivities and spiritual urges, as well as knowing the motivations and intentions of other people. We can often discern the truth and know when others are being dishonest or disloyal. This can be a heavy burden to carry.
For us, relationships often develop quickly and intensely because we connect on a deep, intimate level due to the ability to absorb other people’s energy and emotions. Empaths often says yes to others without thinking of their own needs, and in relationships we most often put other people before ourselves, as though everyone else’s pleasure and happiness is more important than our own. Empaths often take full responsibility for how others treat them and for anything that goes wrong in relationships. Thus, it is easy to lose sight of our own best interests.
I now understand myself better. It seems logical then, that I would need occasional self-care breaks. I have learned how to protect myself and not allow outside toxic energies, emotions or behaviors to affect me negatively. Once I became consciously aware of how and when I allow outside energy to penetrate my protective layer, I retreat, refocus, and remind myself that I am only able to be kind and helpful to others if I am kind and considerate to myself first. Daily, I must make a deliberate effort to not allow my soul to absorb painful and toxic energies of others. I also now realize that it’s essential to surround myself with others whose energies vibrate at a similar frequency. Those in my “tribe” accept my limitations, encourage my self-care, and help to rejuvenate my soul.
What I’ve learned since that initial awakening is that I now recognize my limitations and have established boundaries. I know when I need to recharge my battery, when I need to reinvest in myself. And I refuse to accept that doing so is selfish – it is instead self-preservation!
The definition of self-preservation is to prevent oneself from harm or destruction – don’t we all owe that to ourselves? Don’t wait until you are on the brink of destruction: regularly practice self-care.
Whether you’re an empath or whether you have little ones who are totally dependent on you or whether you’re working too much or whether you’re in a toxic relationship or whether you’re just feeling frustrated with life, we all need to practice self-care. Even if you can’t run away for a week, begin discovering all the little ways you can re-energize your soul. What works for me might not work for you, but just sit in silence for a few minutes, clearing your mind and your environment from distractions, and ask yourself . . . “What would make me really happy right now?” For once: don’t consider anyone else; don’t worry about how you could ever make it happen; don’t concern yourself with other people might think of you – just answer from your soul. You won’t be sorry!
7/2/16 “LET GO OF THE PLAN”
“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Although this simple lessons has proven true over and over again in my life, how many times have I forgotten and instead insisted on plowing through, re-routing, or persevering?
Letting go is never easy. Whether it’s letting go of our baby’s hands when they take those first wobbly steps, or whether it’s letting go when we realize a relationship no longer honors our best selves, or whether it’s letting go of the career we’ve prepared for (and still have mountains of student debt for) that no longer serves us, or whether it’s just letting go of unnecessary expectations we hold for ourselves. Why do we sometimes hang on way longer and much tighter than we should? Why do we choose to accept a life that is less than the best just because we are uncertain or afraid of what’s next?
Tracking my life’s events, to an observer, it appears that I’m well versed in letting go: I’ve left commitments that were unhealthy; I’ve set boundaries in relationships that were unbalanced; I’ve re-routed my career path (several times); I’ve done deep soul work to discover my place of serenity; I’ve severed the myth that success is evidenced by income, status, or possessions. People often classify me as brave, a risk-taker, adventurous, a change agent, uninhibited . . . and although my actions may lead others to see me as such, it is not without inner struggle (and SO much analysis) that I make the choices that I must make to continue to evolve as I seek to live the life intended for me.
I was reminded of this lesson recently as I reminisced about my three magnificent years when I lived on the Jersey Shore: many years prior someone told me they “see me living on the water”. Although I had always had a propensity for bodies of water, especially the ocean, I thought “yea, right”. For years I would fantasize about living at the beach. In Ocean Grove, NJ, a religious community, there exists a quaint, historic “tent village” of over one-hundred tent residents. Over the past one-hundred and fifty years most tents have been handed down from generation to generation and there is upwards of a twenty-year wait-list to apply for the privilege of seasonal tent rental, yet I remember years ago thinking how lucky I would be to acquire one of these 14 x 21 foot tents. A canvass tent was all the bigger I would allow myself to dream.
Several years later, while on my Costa Rica “serenity journey”, I answered my question, “what would make me really happy” with “moving to the beach”. So, I returned to Pennsylvania (and not without analysis, fear, and doubt), quit my job, redirected my career, took a leave-of-absence from my family, packed up and headed to the Jersey Shore. Unknowing. Uncertain. Unwilling to dream too big.
With my map of available rentals, I drove up and down the coast looking for an affordable place where I was within eye-sight of the ocean. I considered a dumpy high-rise several blocks from the beach; I considered a townhouse with a small balcony where if I leaned over the railing far enough, craned my neck, and if they’d cut down a tree, I could see the ocean. I was just shy of signing a lease on a large Victorian with a wrap-around porch in a very seedy neighborhood but just one block from the beach; even though the back door had been kicked in and the house recently broken into, I was seriously considering this as my best option! Had I caved and settled, who knows how long I would have lasted (or survived) the Jersey Shore. Almost to the point of giving up, most certainly reconsidering my decision to uproot my life with no concrete plan, I pulled into a parking lot of a community of five, small institutional-pink-painted buildings, expecting nothing but a place to make a U-turn (this place was not on my map), but once I drove through the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of grandeur: there before me was a grassy courtyard, a cute gazebo, and a small boardwalk OVERLOOKING A PRIVATE BEACH.
Fast forward: for 3 glorious years full of peace and serenity, not only did I live at the Jersey Shore, but I lived ON THE BEACH – nothing between my bedroom window and the magnificent ocean; my own private beach oasis. Way more than I had ever dared dream of—LESSON LEARNED! “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
6/12/16 Me, brave?
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” — Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh
People tell me they think I’m brave . . .
Brave for trekking off to Costa Rica, not knowing anyone, not understanding the culture, unsure of what to expect. Brave for staying at a remote yoga retreat, in the jungle, in a hut. Brave for spending 8 days in virtual solitude, beach walking and self-talking to figure out what I really wanted for my future. Brave for redirecting my life, midlife. Brave for quitting my job and leaving the county I’ve lived in for 43 years to realize my dream of living on the beach in another state. Brave for leaving bad relationships, and brave for staying longer than I should have. Brave for sharing my heart and soul on my blog, opening myself, my choices, and my weaknesses to the world. But brave? Me? No way!
I’m presently sitting in my writing chair, indoors. Sounds logical, but it’s not! It is one of those rare, beautiful, breezy, perfect-temperature summer evenings; the kind that comes around just a few times a season. So, why am I sitting inside rather than on my deck, watching the chipmunks chase each other, listening to the birds’ asynchronous symphonies, immersing myself in the peace and serenity as the wind wafts gently through the woods? Because I AM AFRAID.
I have actually always be afraid.
Some of my earliest memories are when I was in seven years old, being the only one awake in the house before I left for early-bird gymnastics before school once a week, I remember hiding under the table, pulling the chairs in close, and hoping my father’s jacket slung over the chair would adequately shield me from whatever it was I was fearing, imagining. As a young elementary-age girl, I remember being afraid to cross the old metal bridge by my house, thinking someone would be hiding in the crevices waiting for me; I chose rather to walk on the road (much more dangerous) than take the spooky walkway. Then, thinking I could never be more afraid than the moment I discovered I was pregnant, at age 16, but I was wrong – much bigger fears were awaiting my future self. Some of my fears, such as crossing the bridge were imagined; some of my fears, such as the terror I experienced as a victim of mental, physical, and sexual abuse were unimaginable. And some fears were logical, rational. Like the fear I had when post 9/11, my middle son told me he had signed up for the army. Or, like fearing for my daughter’s future when she told me she was quitting college. Fearing for my sanity, when I was looking forward to an empty nest, only to welcome back one or sometimes more than one of aforementioned almost-grown children. Still, I don’t think any of those fears compared with the fear that consumed me when my 18 year old son experienced a tragic brain-injury and was given little hope of survival.
Yes, I am familiar with fear; yes, I am resilient, but I am NOT brave!
Remember, I’m currently hiding in my house. Why? Because although I’ve had this life-long practice living through real fear and tragedy, I still battle with the feelings of fear. What am I feeling afraid of today? No I’m not hiding from a hurricane, such as Super Storm Sandy that visited me at my beachfront oasis several years ago; I’m not hiding from a lunatic ex-husband; I’m not hiding from the ever-bothersome paparazzi (yet). I am hiding from a 2-foot long snake I found in my garden this afternoon! After freaking out, losing all composure, and screaming maybe a little louder than necessary, it slithered under my deck . . . MY DECK! MY PLACE OF ESCAPE, MY SERENITY SPACE. The place I frequent every evening that it is not raining or snowing. I do realize that many of you would classify this as an “irrational fear”, but I am terrified of snakes (and sharks, but that’s another story for another time), and somehow, I can’t seem to face this fear, just yet, so I hide in my house, and I write.
Funny as this may seem, fear, rational or irrational, is not funny. Fear, if we allow it to permeate our minds, can be debilitating. Even if our fears are justified, if we hope to find serenity in our lives, we must figure out how to tame the feelings associated with fear. Physical readjustments may be necessary to secure our well-being, such as when I needed to leave an abusive marriage for my safety and sanity, but even then, we cannot allow fear to linger on, taking up permanent residence within our minds, robbing us of peace.
In my yoga training, we are encourage to “sit with our feelings/emotions. I’m sorry, but I am not sitting with my fear. When fear comes knocking on my mind’s door, I find it best to acknowledge it, and even approach it. I’ve never been a good “sitter”! Maybe someday, I’ll evolve to being able to “sit with fear”, but currently, I take the offensive approach rather than a neutral zone or even a defensive stance. When I was afraid of the anonymous howling/growling sound outside my hut in the Costa Rican jungle in the pre-dawn hours, I did not hide under my covers, instead, trembling, I went looking for the source of the sound (unbelievable such a small monkey can make such an ominous sound). When I’m alone in the night and hear a bump or thump, I leap out of bed to discover what’s disturbing my sleep (I figure it’s better than lying there with my heart pounding through my chest, temples pulsating, palms sweating, envisioning the worst, resurrecting all the scary movie I’ve even seen, resolved to meet my demise – if I’m gonna go down, it’s gonna be with a fight – and in my kitchen, with the knives and all, not in my bedroom, and certainly not in front of my “It’s Never Too Late to Live Happily Ever After” sign).
So, what to do about the snake? And, ultimately, what will I do in response to my fear? Well, I have taken the offensive: I’ve researched and discovered that snakes do not like mothballs, so I’ve liberally spread mothballs all around my garden and shoved moth crystals down through the crevices in my deck; I’m hoping he decides to leave peacefully and take up residence somewhere he’ll be more appreciated, or at least tolerated. (I hope he dislikes the smell of mothballs even more than I do!) If that does not work, I have my inauspicious garden shovel ready if I should need to defend myself. So much for being brave . . .
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Epictetus
I recently read an impassioned poem dedicated to the parents of addicts. It made me remember . . .
Several years ago, my life was not as it is today. For many years I was entangled in pain, and drama, and fear, and sadness, and disappointment, and worry beyond belief. As the mother of an addict, my heart was shattered, my soul crushed, and my faith shaken.
Not that long ago, someone asked me how it was that I was so strong. My response: “I had A LOT of practice!”
As I was thinking about those years of struggle and hardship, I wasn’t always strong in a good way. I was strong in the impenetrable way; I had become stoic—it was my coping mechanism. Webster defines stoic as: “a member of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium about 300 B.C. holding that the wise man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law”.
I conceded that I was unable to bring about an epiphany in my son’s life; I was powerless to help or save him, so I gave in to what seemed the “natural law” and after years of reacting, I retreated and became apathetic– unable to be moved by joy or grief. Not a safe space or happy place to be!
Much like the process sea glass endures to become smooth and rounded, my character was shaped by the turbulent forces of a tidal wave. I can’t lie and say it was all worth it (I wouldn’t wish addiction on anyone), but when I was able to escape to Costa Rica and refocus, I was able to redirect my reactions to my circumstances. I made it out saner, more centered, more balanced, and more tolerant than if I hadn’t had those experiences. I’m thrilled to say that as of today, my son made it out alive, but recovery is a life-long pursuit, taken one day at a time.
Part of the “message” Costa Rica revealed to me was that I needed to do whatever it took to save myself, my soul. Hence, began “my search for serenity” and my continual quest to live Pura Vida – the pure/good life. I can now love without losing myself. I can give without bankrupting my soul. And I know when it’s time to pull back or walk away to preserve my sanity.
The Pura Vida ideology, aligns nicely with my new understanding of stoic that I discovered in the Urban Dictionary. Stoic: “Someone who does not give a shit about the stupid things in this world that most people care so much about. Stoics do have emotions, but only for the things in this world that really matter. They are the most real people alive.”
It is my hope that by being “real” with you, you’ll be inspired to live your best life –join me in celebrating being stoic!
“If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.” – Anonymous
Recently when I was sharing my Costa Rica journey, someone asked me what I meant by “finding myself”. This new-age term, often used loosely, caused me to pause and question how to best answer. After all, I write this blog “My Search for Serenity”, which in reality began when I “found myself”. But, six years ago when I fled to Costa Rica, I did not go to find myself; I did not know I needed finding.
I finally concluded that trying to explain “finding yourself” to someone who doesn’t know they’re lost is tricky– you just can’t make someone who’s never been there understand, nor why would you try?
So this is for the rest of you . . . those who may feel, like I felt, perhaps a bit self-conscious (some would say “selfish”, but I say BRAVE) for even entertaining the thought that you finally get about the business of “finding yourself”.
For many years, most of my life matter-of-fact, I didn’t know that I didn’t know my truest self. I merely went through life accepting whatever came my way, believing that it was my fate, my calling, my predestination. I had naturally been a gifted athlete; I had easily made good grades; I had seamlessly transitioned into motherhood and marriage (in that order); I had consistently achieved my career goals; I had reliably supported my children; I had religiously fulfilled my moral and ethical responsibilities. I just was who I was. Sure I strived to be a better mother, a more content wife, a more devout Christian, a more successful professional, a better friend, a more available daughter, a more fun sister – but all of that was just more striving in the roles I unquestionably fulfilled.
I had not really planned or requested who I had become. I hadn’t asked to be a daughter. I hadn’t a choice in being the big sister. I hadn’t dreamed of being a teenage bride. I hadn’t wanted to be a victim of domestic violence. I hadn’t planned on being a single mother. I hadn’t prepared for the heartbreak of my children’s poor choices. I hadn’t desired to be twice divorced. I hadn’t deserved financial devastation.
I hadn’t consulted my soul; I merely reacted to my circumstances, developing a personality and a life around those variables. I hadn’t really considered there was another option. I believed I had to play the hand I was dealt to the best of my ability. Perseverance was the essential factor; joy was not much of a consideration. The cycle of life just continued without much thought or resistance on my part . . . until Costa Rica – until I realized that I not only had a choice, but also an obligation to figure out who I was at my core, my soul, my truest self.
At that mountain top yoga retreat in the jungles of Costa Rica, I met other women who were much farther along on their self-development journeys. I discovered strong, independent, vibrant, passionate women who recognized the value of self-developing. These women were kind, giving, and gentle women. They were mothers, wives, business leaders, volunteers—“regular” on the outside, but on the inside . . . there was a fire, an essential purpose, a focused determination to uphold their true selves.
I wondered: did I have a true self?
During those eight days of beach-walking meditation, I remembered! I did have a true self. I allowed my mind to travel back and recall who I was before the world told me who I needed to be.
I recollected as early as 5 years old, proudly marching up and down the alley behind my home, parading with my baton. It didn’t matter to me that I was the only one in my parade; this was one of my favorite activities. I remember at 8 years old dressing up in my mother’s silky lounge dresses, envisioning beautiful gowns, weaving plastic flowers for tiaras, recruiting neighbors and guests to watch my dance performances. Before I was 10, I recall gathering all our albums, opening the double-folded covers, displaying them around the room, placing my favorites on the turntable and singing my heart out, pretending to be a country music star. As a pre-teen, I built huts in the woods and ate pomegranates fantasizing about being Brook Shields from The Blue Lagoon. As a teenager, I crafted and decorated a retreat hideaway in the garage attic where I would read, write, and dream. The list of creative activities continued to flood my mind: I cleared my closets setting up mock clothing stores; I salvaged my parents’ vacation memorabilia and ticket stubs to organize a travel agency with a detailed airline schedule posted on my chalkboard. I often enlisted my younger sister or playmates to be the students in my classroom (I was always the teacher). I loved generating ideas. I loved pretending. I loved dreaming. I loved creative expression. What happened?
Yes, we all grow up. I realize none of us can remain in make-believe land, but what happened to my free, creative spirit? How had I become so entrenched in routine and normalcy?
By getting out of my comfort zone, my routine, my embedded idea of normal, my indoctrinated belief of rational, I was able to wonder and ponder. Costa Rica provided me a place and a space to remember and rediscover my true essence – the brave, unconventional, non-conformist, creative, kinda wild, risk taking, dreamer.
I guess the most simple, direct explanation of finding myself is returning to the things that really ignite my spark. These days, it’s things like walking on the beach, letting lists go undone, hula-hooping, sitting on my porch sipping wine listening to the birds, getting lost in books, sharing my heart through my blog, immersing myself in nature, and encouraging others to be brave and live their best lives.
Upon reflection, I am thankful I got a little tangled up, a little lost in the cycle of life because: “If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found” – how true those words were for me.
Go forth bravely and rediscover your true self, find your center, and let your light shine!
While you’re busy looking for the perfect person, you’ll probably miss the imperfect person who could make you perfectly happy ― Jason Hendeles
Several years ago, when I was single (for a quick minute), I approached dating like most other problems, goals, or competitions – I attacked it with all the analysis, passion, and perseverance I applied to other areas of my life. Armed with my list of desirable qualities and non-negotiables, I jumped into the online dating world with a singular focus of finding my perfect mate. Married at 18, I had never really dated. Middle-aged, post-divorce I felt like I had been given a golden ticket; I was resolved and confident that I would get it right this time!
Online dating was both outré and alluring. Technology seemed to offer endless possibilities and algorithms to produce my flawless companion. Though I quickly found what I believed to be my perfect match, within months became my greatest heartbreak. Long story, short, eventually I did find my perfectly imperfect partner (but not on the internet). Instead I found him, on the rebound (contrary to all wisdom and advice), in the one place I did not want to meet a man – a bar. Having thrown my list out the window, I decided to take a twirl on the dance floor with this Casanova – after all what could be the harm in ONE dance?
One dance turned into ONE night, which turned into what I affectionately refer to as my first and only one night stand that never left my bed. Wait—this man was not on my list! We are as opposite as Felix and Oscar (The Odd Couple), but what I learned was that this imperfect person (according to my “list”) was the perfect person to get me out of my own way; he unknowingly helped me realize that what I really needed in my life was balance. After years of white-knuckling it through, striving to do the right thing, trying to make a marriage work that had long ago expired, this guy taught me to throw caution to the wind and have fun (a quality that was NOWHERE on my list).
Although this quote has resonated in my relationship, and although I believe it to be good dating advice, this truth extends beyond romance. How many times do we have our “lists” where we plan exactly how things should go? Whether it is in careers or with children or trips or relationships, how many imperfect opportunities do we dismiss because we are so rigid awaiting our perfect scenario? How many wonderful experiences have we missed because of our perfect expectations?
One of the exceptions I’ve learned to embrace from my many visits to Costa Rica is known as “tico time”. It is the commonly practiced belief that life does not revolve around a firm and demanding time frame. Whether awaiting a repairman, service in a restaurant, or meeting up with a friend, timing in Costa Rica is a fluid concept. Flexibility and adaptability are essential. It gets done when it gets done. It’s a lovely way to learn to accept what is rather than stress about some ideal of what should be. It has taught me that I can’t always make things happen when I want them to happen, nor should I continue to wish for such trivialities. Tico time provides an opportunity to find alternatives to watching the clock: like enjoying the warmth of the sun, absorbing the magnificent sounds of nature, or observing the lush surroundings.
Some of my favorite memories occurred when I embraced the unexpected. Like the time I was caught in the rain at an outdoor concert – drenched, make-up running down my face, but I had more fun dancing that night than any of the hundreds of other times I’ve danced. Or like the time I “wasted” all that money on a yoga retreat only to spend the week in solitude walking on deserted beaches and actually finding myself – priceless! Or like years ago when I thought that insouciant playboy could never become partner-worthy, only to look down now at my wedding ring tattoo and realize that my heart did not know how to get my mind out of the way so it could accept what it really needed.
In the past eight years, I have had more fun and more laughter in my life than in the total forty years prior. The point is: if we can just step aside from what we think we need, what we think we want, what we think we deserve and open our eyes, take risks, and consider possibilities not probabilities, we just may find something we never even considered but end up discovering it is exactly the thing that has the power and potential to exponentially improve our lives.
4/4/16 – “You’ve got to know when to fold ‘em” Kenny Rogers
Brief explanation of poker:
Two Aces (pocket Aces) are only the best hand if everyone folds or until all 5 cards are flipped. Suddenly, if three 2’s turn up, an original hand of a 2 and a 3 probably end up being the best hand. But the person with the two Aces probably think their hand is really strong since they now have a full-boat or full-house. Remember the other hand is now four-of-a-kind (four 2’s, which beats a full house). The moral of the story is: it doesn’t matter how good of a hand you appear to have, sometimes it’s not the best hand possible.
Back to the original quote from that famous country song . . . life, like poker, is about knowing when to fold ‘em; knowing when it is best to just lay down your cards and walk away. Even if you didn’t hit it big, it is always wise to leave the poker table while you still have money left. In the game of life, too many of us just keep playing along in relationships, in jobs, in negative patterns, in bad habits until we are emotionally bankrupt, until we have nothing left. We keep gambling hoping that things will get better, that we’ll hit the jackpot if we just hang in there.
REMEMBER: IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW GOOD YOUR HAND IS—IT’S OK TO FOLD YOUR CARDS AND WALK AWAY! In poker it’s a little easier because if you fold your cards, you never need to show anyone else what you were holding. In life, sometimes we worry too much what people will think of us if we walk away from something that others might consider a good hand, but it’s your hand; it’s your life. If something is no longer serving your best purpose, you do not have to keep hanging in there. Sometimes the wisest and kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to “fold”. No explanations necessary!
I know many people wondered why I walked away from a marriage of 17 years; many people wonder why I ran away to Costa Rica (and some people wonder why I came back); many people wonder why I gave up a good job with no plans but to move to the beach; many people wondered why I left that dream beach condo to move back to Pennsylvania; many people wondered about many of the choices I’ve made in my life, but it is MY life. And friends, it is YOUR life. We cannot, and should not, make decisions based on other people’s opinions of what is best for us. What might be good for someone else, might not be the best for our soul. What might have been good enough for all those years, might not be wonderful enough for our future self. What might have been socially acceptable, responsible, and admirable might not be the choice you need to make to free yourself to experience an incredible, amazing, and fulfilling life that is not be possible if you limit yourself because you’re afraid to fold your hand.
According to poker pros, pocket Aces hold up (win) only 31-70% of the time (depending on how many people are in the hand) –if that probability holds true with life, on the flip-side, 50% of the time there’s a better hand out there. Don’t be afraid to fold and walk away if you believe there’s something better out there for you . . .
3/28/19 – the end of an era “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
As a self-proclaimed “change agent” it’s not easy to admit that lately I’ve been struggling with accepting some changes in my life. First there was the moving away from the beach, which required that I release my dream for the good of another, then there was the elimination of the “cushy” job that challenged my sensibilities, next there was my good friend/my anchor who recently moved away from my beach community, which eradicated any semblance of my former life at the beach, and now . . . my Costa Rica flip flops!
For those of you who have read my blog, you know the funny story that necessitated the purchase of these flip-flops during my inaugural trip. They have been with me on every trip over the past six years. They were more than a comfortable, functional wardrobe staple; they symbolized the inception of my journey—my search for serenity. They represented the commencement of my transformation.
For someone who is not very sentimental, someone who does not cherish tradition, someone who does not retain memorabilia, I sure put up a muss and fuss when the flip-flops finally succumbed. It was fitting that they decided trod their last while I was hiking in the mountains of Rincon de la Veija, so that I had to hobble, one-shoed back to the lodge to secure my spare pair (yep, I learned that lesson!) So, it was with great sadness and not without ceremony that I had to abandon my flip-flops in Costa Rica. RIP 3/18/16
Silly as it seems, this incident caused me to reflect—why was I struggling with letting go? I know that the only constant is change. I recognize that all endings make way for new adventures. I believe that everything happens for our growth and good. I preach that change is exhilarating. But deep down, I still sometimes struggle with wanting to hold on. I know this feeling is based on fear. What was I afraid of? I was afraid that life away from the beach would not be as soulful. I was afraid that being unemployed would undo me. I was afraid that I would lose my familiarity and connections with my former beach community. I was afraid that my new flip-flops would not be as comfortable. I was afraid of the pain of transition. There I said it. I was afraid of change. Not debilitating fear, but discomfort enough to drive me back to a place of contemplation. A gentle reminder that I needed to return to my “center”. A place where I reflect on the here and now, not yesterday, not tomorrow. To “just be present” is a lesson I learned on my yoga mat, and it’s often a lesson I need reminded of daily. Letting go is accepting. Accepting is trust. Trust is knowledge that it will all work out. IT WILL ALL WORK OUT! Maybe not as we hoped, maybe not as we planned, maybe not as we dreamed, but all things work together for our good! It is up to us to see the good and believe the good, and we can’t do that as long as we are hanging on to what use to be, what could have been, or what we would have done if we could control everything! Sometimes it’s gonna rain – and the best thing we can do when it is raining is let it rain, and while we’re at it, we might as well take off our shoes and run and jump and dance and sing in the rain until the storm passes!
3/7/16 – “Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again.” Alex Tan
I’m not what you would call a saver or collector. Matter of fact, if you read my 02/01/16 blog about simplicity, you know that I’m de-cluttering my life by removing distractions, eliminating non-essentials, and focusing on intentional living.
I do, however, have one massive collection: I collect seaglass.
Seaglass, sometimes referred to as Mermaid’s Tears, is varied pieces of glass that have been so transformed by the sea that they are nearly unrecognizable; these relics serve as a reminder that as with most transformations, the process is neither quick nor easy. Whenever I hold a piece of my treasured seaglass, the symbolism reminds me that more often than not, the journey will produce beautiful results.
Seaglass is in its former life was just regular, broken shards of discarded glass—a sad symbol of worthlessness. Glass bottles that someone didn’t even take the time to place in a trash receptacle, are tossed into or along the shore line. Sucked out to the sea by the force of the tide, broken and battered by the undercurrent, tumbled with such force until it explodes into hundreds of pieces that then are smashed into the sand, refined by pressure and friction, repeating this tumultuous cycle for years until all rough edges are rounded and smooth. Eventually the ocean spews them onto the beach where they resurface anew awaiting someone like me to come along and discover them, rescue them, and treasure the beautiful relics they’ve become. Seaglass, when mature, is distinguishable by its milky, thick, smooth patina. Barely reminiscent of its former being, seaglass is a rare and lovely treasure. Worn and weathered by the turbulence of the sea, it is no wonder I have such a strong connection to it—both the seaglass and I have been on similar journeys.
There are many myths and legends explaining Mermaid Tears. Some say that every time a sailor drowned, the tears the mermaids shed crystalized and became these pieces of seaglass. Others believe that these mermaid tears were a result of Neptune’s edict: as he disallowed the mermaids to alter the course of nature by accompanying ships and sailors through dangerous storms, the mermaids were banished to the depths of the ocean; their tears wash upon the shore as proof of their undying love for the sailors. I choose to believe the mermaids cry tears as a reminder to their human sisters that although the road may be difficult, although life may not be as we dreamed, although our current situations may seem bleak, through the tribulation, we will arise and emerge a smoother, softer version of our former selves.
Every time we move, I wonder whether I should tote my massive seaglass collection, but as I reflect and connect with each piece of glass and its journey; I am never able to part with my seaglass collection—it serves as a constant reminder that the product is a result of the process!
2/28/16 – “Knowing how to yield is strength” Lao Tzu
Back in December 2010, when I was 43 years old I ran away from home.
It was a totally selfish act – leaving my family on Christmas morning, spending more money than I’d spent in several years’ of family vacations, to travel 4,000 miles, to a remote Central American mountaintop “just because” was not a very responsible or compassionate thing to be doing, but it was the only thing I could do to catch my breath; for me, it was the only way . . .
When I was in college (as an adult—second, no third—maybe fourth career change) I came across this poem in one of my literature classes. It struck me, and it stuck with me. (Looking back now, it might have been the spark that ignited the flame that would become my sojourn many years later.) It so eloquently described the way I felt at the time.
“Not Waving, But Drowning” by Stevie Smith.
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
To say my life choices had bogged me down was an understatement; I felt like I had on cement shoes and was thrown in a New York river. “I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning.” I’m not sure anyone (other than my sister) knew that all my life, I WAS NOT WAVING!
Thankfully, somehow . . . before it was too late, I realized that I was drowning. No Coast Guard arrived with a lifeboat; no knight in shining armor rescued me; no one was able to help me because I spent my life trying to hide the fact that I was barely treading water, Because of this self-deprivation I had isolated myself, and I was my only last hope. Somehow, I was able to formulate a rescue plan. And, as any desperate, drowning person would do, when I found a life preserver, I clung to it as my only hope. Running away from home, running to Costa Rica was my life preserver.
At the time, I really believed that running away was the only way. Fleeing allowed me to catch my breath, but it did not take me long (one day in fact) to learn that there’s a big difference between running away and staying away. Lesson #1 – I cannot spontaneously run away (see “Travel Tales” blog 1/26/16). It was not my time; I could not abandon my relationships and my responsibilities back in the states. I could not live with the thought that those I loved might think it was because of them that I was running.
What I realized was that I needed to find balance between who I was at my core and who I had become because of my life choices and obligations. My choices, were my choices, and my feelings of desperation were largely a self-imposed sentence. What I learned in Costa Rica was that instead of allowing circumstances to suck the life out of me, I determined to figure out how to co-exist in my many roles, without losing myself; I had forgotten how to breathe on my own—I needed to breathe deeply. Just like the airline stewardesses instruct: when faced with an emergency, you must place the oxygen mask first on yourself before you help others. What began as a selfish journey – running away (and according to my luggage, I was prepared for a very long odyssey) became a life transformation. I learned that before I can be of assistance or value to others, I had to take care of my needs – AND THAT IS NOT SELFISH—it is self-preservation! Once I found my life raft, I began breathing; I was able to rest, recover, and rebuild; I was then able to return, reintegrate, and redirect.
Life today is much different for me. It’s not that I don’t still have obstacles; it’s not that I never feel overwhelmed; it’s not that relationship are never difficult – it’s just that I’ve learned to take care of ME: I’m kind to myself; I honor my soul’s cry when it needs reset; I value my serenity practices. I’m no longer drowning. And maybe more importantly, I’m no longer waving . . . I’ve realized that as long as I was waving, I was wasting energy on keeping up appearances for others, which in reality was merely flailing about . . . I now keep both arms by my side (palms turned up – Shavasana) as I float along in the journey we call life.
02/10/16 – The greatest act of courage is to be and to own all of who you are—without apology, without excuses, without masks . . . Debbie Ford
Know thyself . . . these two simple words are traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers. Throughout the ages, wise sages have advised that we search for our essence, accept who we are, and go forth and live—large and wonderful!
In Benjamin Franklin’s, Poor Richard’s Almanac, he observed the great difficulty of knowing one’s self: “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
Why is it so hard? Why is it easier to project who others expect us to be? Why do we often times seamlessly morph into society’s roles and norms? Why do we so easily lose ourselves?
Several years ago, while in Costa Rica on a crash course in self-discovery I began to examine those questions. Of the many lessons I learned (see my Travel Tales blog 1/21/16), I vowed to accept who I am, where I am, at each moment as great progress. We all have pasts and have made mistakes; we all have let others down and lost our way, but there’s little benefit in self degradation. I began to understand the theory of acceptance and premise of grace. Contrary to the years of guilt-ridden, self-imposed (regular) sessions of condemnation, I began to understand and accept that I had done the best I could have done in each situation, according to the tools and resources I had available at the time. In each of those situations, I was not the person I am today; at that moment in history, I did not have the competences I have developed along the way; I could not, and did not, react in a way I might respond today if I were faced with the same situation. Upon reflecting on each of my “disappointments”, I said to myself, “I did the best I could have done at that time.” There was nothing I could do now if my past efforts were not accepted by others or if my best was not good enough in anyone else’s opinion. Ultimately, whether or not others accept that or not, I had finally found peace.
During this season of love, while so many around the world are focused on the notion of romantic love, take a few moments to focus on YOU. Reflect on those two words: know thyself. To know yourself involves searching. Accepting what you find takes grace and love. I find it interesting that one of the many definitions of love is a completely non-romantic depiction. According to Webster, love also means “a score of zero” (as in tennis). Hmmmm! Maybe in order to love who we are, it’s time to stop condemning ourselves; stop being our own worst critics; stop keeping score of all our failures and disappointments. To paraphrase what I learned as a child in Sunday school, which perfectly explains the “score of zero” type of love—love is patient, love is kind . . . it keeps no record of wrongs . . . it rejoices with the truth . . . it always hopes, always perseveres.
This Valentine’s Day, let us find the courage to be and to own all of who we are. Rejoice in the essence of YOU. It is my desire that today you will begin loving yourself like you’ve always longed be loved—without keeping score!