Purpose – It’s Simple

I just got back from 9 nights in Whitefish and Glacier National Park, which was unforgettably amazing and which I’ll write about in a later post.  For now…before I left town, I wrote this blog post, but wanted to let it marinate for a bit.  I re-read it today and it was a nice pick-me-up.  I made a few grammatical changes, but otherwise, it’s the same draft from a month ago.  Enjoy!

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Hiking in East Glacier

Over the past 7 years, I’ve done a TON of self-work on a regular basis. I’ve gone to individual and group therapy.  I’ve read tons of self-help articles and books.  I write daily or weekly in multiple journals-1 on my phone, 1 on my desktop and a paper one so that I can write down my thoughts any time wherever I am.  I’ve backpacked and hiked, often straying from my friends to have a bit of quiet time in the woods thinking about life and asking the earth to help me through the tough times.  I’ve used apps and workbooks.  I’ve done yoga and art classes.

All of these activities are part of the process.  A process that I believe whole-heartedly has helped me on my journey towards inner peace and happiness.  And I love doing these activities and don’t plan on stopping any of them any time soon, even though I’ve cut back on some over the years depending on my schedule, budget and whatever else I’m focusing on.  I’m really lucky that I have the time, ability and resources to go through this process.  But I’ve also become frustrated with the process along the way.  A few years ago, I was frustrated that my hard work didn’t seem to be paying off.  I felt like after 5 years of therapy and whatnot, I still wasn’t “normal” and I still had slip-ups and issues.   My mentality about a lot of things in life is that if I take all the correct steps, follow the rules and be a good person, then the outcome will be perfect.  Wrong.  I had to come to grips with the fact that it’s not so much about the outcome, but about the process.  Focusing too much on the end product was only making me upset and miss the entire point of doing self-work in the first place.  I was missing the entire show because I was so excited for the encore!

I also realized that life is completely unpredictable and even if it’s rosey right now, there will always be unexpected physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and psychological challenges and growing pains, and therefore, I should just embrace the idea that I’ll be doing self-work for the rest of my life.  So once I accepted all of this, I thought for sure that I’d be strolling peacefully and carefree down Easy Street.  Wrong again!  That’s when I really started hitting my head against a wall.  I actually became pretty depressed on a daily basis.  Sure, there were many nights when I would come home and dramatically drop to my bedroom floor wailing and rolling around in my high heels and skinny jeans, asking the universe why I couldn’t just be happy.  Or I’d call my siblings sobbing hysterically and tell them that first thing tomorrow morning, I was packing up and driving to Wyoming and living in a remote cabin in the mountains.  Thankfully, I figured out what triggered nights like those (red wine) and cut back.  More importantly, all of the self-work that I was doing really did help, such that I could enjoy a few glasses of wine and  then come home and let a few tears trickle down my cheeks to a Ben Howard song and then snap myself right out of it and realize that life isn’t so bad and I’m certainly not entitled to have the universe make me happy.  But this new emptiness was something much different.  I had eliminated a lot of the triggers in my life that lead me to feel empty or anxious.  I even moved to Utah, which was a dream come true. I’ve been living a really healthy life and doing things that I love on a daily basis, mostly in the mountains.  Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing in my life really mattered.  Now, I must digress here and explain that I was a philosophy major in college and consider myself an existentialist.  So it was even more frustrating that my core belief system centers around the idea that I am the only person, entity, being, force that can create meaning in my life, and yet, I was doing all these things and my life felt meaningless.  Talk about a spiritual crisis!  Since the meaning of my life was supposed to come from within me and nowhere else, I tried my hardest to force myself mentally and emotionally to feel meaningful, but I simply didn’t and then I felt inadequate, ungrateful, and self-centered.  I tried to look at all of my projects at work, all of my volunteer activities, my relationships, my extracurricular activities, and will myself into believing that they mattered.  But that anxious and empty feeling kept coming back.

So for the past few months this has been my predicament.  And it’s been exhausting.  It was almost paralyzing in some aspects of my life because I kept thinking what’s the point of doing this that and another thing.  I was simply going through the motions.  On a side note–I also had a lot of goals that I wasn’t meeting.  I’m pretty disciplined, but I became apathetic to my goals.  Even though I enjoyed the process of meeting goals, I no longer cared because they had no meaning.

Finally, about a week ago the universe struck me with the realization that I’ve never self-identified my purpose in life.  I’ve never stopped and asked myself what I want the purpose of my life to be.  And because I had no purpose, I had been living without intention.  How can I possibly give meaning to my life when I haven’t even given it a purpose?  I was thrilled when I realized that once I create my purpose, I’ll start living intentionally and when I live intentionally, I’ll feel like everything I do has meaning.  Now I’m not saying that I’m this important person doing all these meaningful things for the world.  What matters is that whatever I’m doing is important to me in that moment.  There’s no task too small for me to intentionally complete towards my purpose in life.

And then I realized that once I began to live intentionally towards my purpose, I was able to meet my goals without even trying, because everything else falls to the wayside.  For example, let’s consider my shopping habit.  I’ve read Dave Ramsey,  Mr. Money Mustache and Blond on a Budget, I’ve done the worksheets, I use Mint, and I’ve got a fairly detailed budget that I work on several times a week.   I’ve lived and experienced first-hand how poor spending habits can devastate a family.   But for some reason, I still spend way too much money on clothes, even though I’ve done all this self-work and should know that clothes don’t make you beautiful.  So the old me used to agonize over desperately wanting a new pair of jeans while knowing that I just don’t have the spare cash to buy them.   I’d spend days debating this stupid purchase.  One minute I’d justify it because “life is too short not to have cute jeans!” and the next minute I’d scold myself for being so shallow.  And then I’d end up buying the jeans and just feel worse about myself.  Needless to say, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to control my spending.  And then it hit me–I can’t meet my goals because I don’t have a purpose.  Meeting goals to meet goals isn’t fulfilling for me.  I’m not saying that it’s easy or that I could meet any goal if I tried.  Meeting goals is really hard work.  It’s a lot easier if there’s a purpose behind it.  When you’ve got a purpose and you’re living intentionally, any decision that doesn’t direct you towards your purpose just falls to the wayside.  The only options left are intentional action on the path towards your purpose and you meet goals along the way.

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Favorite bracelet: Live What You Love

I wish I could tell you that my purpose is some earth-shattering, world-changing, super-hero type action.  But it’s not.  To find my purpose, all I did was think about when I feel the best, and that’s when I’m making healthy choices as often as possible.  So my purpose is to savor how I feel when I’m being healthy and try to make it happen as often as possible.  When I ride my bike for 4 hours in the mountains and then do yoga in my living room for an hour, I’m happier than a pig in mud.  When I get 8-9 hours of non-alcohol induced sleep, I wake up feeling like Little Miss Sunshine.  When I read books, I feel youthful and whimsical like Peter Pan.  So yea, that’s my purpose, as simple and selfish as it might seem.  But as my brother always says, if you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of anyone else.  I finally feel a weight off my shoulders and can stop holding my breath because I can live intentionally and not worry about all the riff-raff.  Of course, from time to time, I still have too many drinks, don’t get enough sleep and miss a workout.  But most of the time, I’m doing healthy things and allowing myself to enjoy those things and live in the moment, rather than feel guilty or over-analyze life in general.  I bet my purpose will evolve over time and I’ll just let that happen naturally and peacefully, but for now, I’m pretty darn happy just making simple, healthy choices.

 

Contentment

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Have you ever had a weekend where you’re still smiling about it a few days later when you’re back in the office?  Where you look a little goofy bouncing down the hall to the copier with a dreamy look on your face?  It’s happened to me twice recently!  Once after doing trail work at Caesar Creek and the second after biking two days in a row.

Caesar Creek is about 45 minutes from my house and has some great hiking trails, camping, waterways and the famous Pioneer Village.  One of the trails in Caesar Creek is a 22-mile segment  that is part of the Buckeye Trail, which is an approximately 1,400-mile loop around Ohio.  Part of the 22-mile segment had become so rutted that horses were apparently falling and twisting ankles.  I was immediately terrified that these horses who fell had to be put down, like in the movies, but thankfully, none of them died.   9 of the 22 miles are being bulldozed and re-built by the ODNR. Volunteers, like my friend Joel, are handling the other 13 miles.  Joel is going to host about 7 workdays over the next year and a half, culminating in a celebratory grand re-opening of the trail in the Fall of 2017.   The first workday was two Saturday’s ago and it was a total blast.  I hadn’t been in the woods for about 4 weekends, which made me very grumpy, so when I woke up on Saturday, it truly felt like Christmas morning.  I packed up my car and headed north, meeting the gang around 10 a.m.  Although I had packed my backpack full of water and delish snacks, I hadn’t brought any tools besides some cute pink garden gloves.  But thankfully, one of the guys loaned me his spare hedge clippers.  Off we plodded into the woods with Joel’s chainsaw, Ethan’s clippers and Lew’s hatchet.  For the next several hours, we joked, laughed and worked to widen a mile of the trail to about 4 feet, so that there was plenty of room for it to grow this summer without covering the foot path.  We all made fun of each other, told crazy stories, and then flopped in the middle of the trail covered in twigs, dirt and sweat, finally declaring that it was time to go to Stone House Tavern in Waynesville for some cold beers and fried food.  On our way out of the woods, we befriended an Army veteran named Matt, who had spent a year in Afghanistan, and is currently training to do the entire 1,400 miles of the Buckeye Trail.  We invited him to join us at the Tavern, which he did after finishing the last 3 miles of his 20 mile hike.  There were 10 of us and at the end of our meal, Matt absolutely insisted on paying for everyone’s meal and drinks.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer.  It was so incredibly kind.

After that, 4 of us camped out at Hickory Overlook, next to the lake.  The sunset was magnificent and then we had a roaring campfire and I made us some “special” S’mores, which consist of graham crackers, a thin layer of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter spread and jumbo marshmallows.  A Park Officer hung out with us for about an hour until he was called to find an unresponsive officer and someone else.  The next morning, everyone left, but I decided to sit by the lake a read my new book, I Had to Survive, which is by one of the Uruguayans whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in the 70s (you may have seen the movie, Alive, which is about them).   I had purchased it moments after reading a NatGeo interview that my friend Clay had posted and I highly recommend it so far (only half way through). I found a little clearing in the woods and sat there reading for an hour, overlooking the lake and watching the mid-morning kayakers and paddle-boarders going past.  And that’s when I realized another reason that I love backpacking/camping.  When I’m in the woods, I’m totally and completely content with my surroundings. I don’t want to change a thing.  I simply enjoy whatever is there and make the most of whatever Earth’s living room has to offer.  I might be hungry, thirsty, tired, sore, cold or rain-soaked, but I can’t think of any spot in the woods that I’ve wanted to change or regretted visiting.  Of course, I’m not staying in places like those on Naked & Afraid, Lost and Survivor.  And of course, I always like to upgrade my gear, but all in all, I feel very content out there.   And that contentment totally spilled over into my workweek.

Last weekend was also extremely fulfilling.  On Saturday, I joined the 50 West Cycling “Ladies Ride” which I found through meetup.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely loyal to my LBS, BioWheels (more on their awesomeness at a later date!), but the 50 West ride was fabulous.  The weather was cool and sunny and most of the trees and flowers were in full bloom.  I’m terrified of biking on roads, but we ended up jumping off the bike path and cruising down the roads of Indian Hill, doing some of the biggest hills in my biking career.  My thighs burned on the uphills and I literally felt like a speeding bullet on the downhills–it was a total blast!  That afternoon, I went home and flopped on a blanket in the park.  The next morning, we had gorgeous weather again, so I biked the path from Newtown to Loveland.  Afterwards, I flopped in the park again, exhausted.  That night, I took my “little” bro (he’s 15 but 6 feet tall) out for dinner at the Silver Spring House, which was yummy and fun!  He’s the best.  Come Monday morning, I was still grinning ear to ear after such a fulfilling weekend.  Here’s to true contentment!  Now if only I can practice it in all aspects of life…

Now (and Then)

A lot of people ask me how I got into backpacking and why in the world I love it so much.  I even had one guy tell me that if people in third world countries knew that I choose to live “like them” on the weekends, they’d think I was crazy.  For the record, I never spoke to Mr. Ignorant again.  So this is part one of a two part post about my love for backpacking (Now) and dis-love for backpacking (Then).

It all started when my very dear friend, Kim, asked me to join her for a 2 day/1 night beginner’s backpacking workshop in April, 2014 in Stillwater Prairie in mid-Ohio.  The company running the trip was Outdoor Adventure Connection, based in Dayton, Ohio (http://www.outdooradventureconnection.com/).  The Chief Adventure Officer, Andy aka Captain Blue (or Uncle Andy later on) would be leading us, along with his esteemed assistant.  I signed up for the trip and off I puttered to REI to purchase a new Osprey Ariel 65 liter backpack with the assistance of a sales person.  Then I stopped by my stepdad’s house to grab my old sleeping bag that I had used at summer camp when I was 12 years old.  The sleeping bag took up the entire pack, but I was unfazed since I had no idea that modern sleeping bags pack down to smaller than a shoe box.  Kim and I arrived to Stillwater and I was the only person without trekking poles, because I thought those were for “older folks” (but now I can’t backpack without them!).   Andy lent me his spare poles and we trotted into the woods.  Every couple of hours we had a “workshop” where Andy and his assistant taught us about everything from Leave No Trace to bathroom issues.   Who knew that living in the woods for a few days could be so complicated?!  I love school and felt like I was in an outdoor classroom, gobbling up every tidbit of knowledge I could.  That night, Andy cooked about 10 freeze-dried meals and desserts for all of us to share and boy were they tasty after a long hike!  Kim and I slept side by side in her dad’s tent, although we woke up every hour on the hour.  The next day my pack was cutting into my shoulders and no amount of adjustments could alleviate the pain.  I was in so much pain that I seriously almost called my mom to come pick me up on the side of the trail.  But the good folks we were with insisted on swapping packs with me to change up the pressure points and I was able to finish with a smile.  After that weekend, I was totally hooked on backpacking!

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Me and Kim at OAC’s Beginners’ Backpacking Workshop, April 2014, Stillwater Prairie

It’s taken me a long time to realize why I love backpacking, but I’ve finally uncovered some of the subconscious reasons.  First, nature is healing.  My heart bears a heavy burden and sometimes the burden is too much for me to handle alone.  When that happens, I literally look at a tree or at my feet on the grass and ask the earth to please take some of the pain out of my heart.  I know that my heart can only take so much and at some point I need help. I envision the pain flowing from my heart and out of my body into the earth.  The earth is much bigger and wiser than me and can handle the pain that my immortal soul cannot.  She loves us all and can heal us spiritually and emotionally, I believe.  I used to turn to a bottle of wine, but that only made things worse.  Now I turn to nature and it really works.

The second reason is that it helps me escape my own head.  Whenever I have a nagging issue, whether it’s about dating or my family or whatever, and I’m in the woods, I find it terribly hard to focus on the issue because I realize that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it 10 miles from civilization without cell service.  A lot of times, I realize that even if I were back home, there’s nothing I can do about it.  I let go and stop trying to figure it out or control it and I simply focus on each step and each breath that I have the privilege of taking that day.  The next moment is not promised to me and so I must relish this exact moment spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally.   Nature is the best catalyst for that.

The third reason came to me when I read an article that my dear friend, Stevie, posted by Mark Manson entitled, “You probably know to ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ Here’s a way better question.”  My interpretation and understanding of the article is that most people think they need to figure out and then do “what makes them happy”.  But instead, people need to think about what uncomfortable, difficult and challenging moments they’re willing to endure for whatever makes them happy.  Manson used to fantasize about becoming a famous guitar player and how happy that would make him feel.  He envisioned being on stage with his fans screaming for him.  What he didn’t envision were all the obstacles and hurdles that he would have to face in order to become a famous guitar player.  So the real question according to Manson is, “What pain are you willing to sustain?”  For me, it’s spending an entire day packing freeze-dried meals and a 65 liter pack with enough gear to last a week in woods.  Or hiking 24 miles in the pouring down rain for 2 days, and waking up with water splashing on my face because my tent wetted out, and I still have 4 days left on the trail.  It’s getting home late on a Sunday night after a long drive back and spending the next 3 nights hand washing all of my mud-caked gear in the bathtub with special soap and waterproofer, so that it stays in great condition.  Do I love these steps in the process?  No.  Would I ever let someone else do these things for me?  Heck no.  Because it’s all part of what I love, which is being out on the trail with the sun on my face, wind in my air and nature all around me.  Yes, this is self-imposed and no, I’m not complaining.  I’m simply agreeing with Manson.  So now you know what’s really behind my photos of sun-kissed smiles atop Sassafras Mountain or lush forests on the Roan Highlands.  And this is what I LOVE!