Take Two: Learning to be Alone

I can just imagine the look of stress on my mom’s face as she receives an email notification that I’ve written another blog on me being alone. Let me quell your fears right away — It’s OK Mom, everything is fine and we have not broken up.

In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. This time around I am learning that there is a new kind of being alone, the kind that you schedule and choose very carefully. The kind that is infinitely more challenging when you’re in a happy, loving relationship in a city full of things to see and places to eat and and friends (!) … did I mention I have those too! It’s kind of well…overwhelming. Both in a very good way (believe me I’m grateful) but also in a how-do-I-balance-all-this-and-still-go-to-the-gym-kind-of-way?!

So here we go with my biggest realization as of late: my time living on Long Island should more accurately be described as my time in isolation, not my time spent alone. I didn’t know that there was a difference until I had something to compare it with, but this is what isolation looked like for me.

Scrolling for hours and hours through social media because I missed all my friends and even randoms I didn’t even really care too much to know how they were doing.

Crying after coming home from a fantastic weekend of visiting people and feeling the heavy void of them not being there.

Being in bed on a Friday night at 9pm because I couldn’t think of anything better to do with my time, warming my heating pad up and calling it my “boyfriend” because it was heavy enough to mimic human contact.

These were some of the down sides, but I’ve also written extensively on the positives — I learned a whole lot about what I do to entertain myself when I am isolated. The list includes but is not limited to:

  • Getting tipsy and playing 9 holes of golf by myself
  • Going for a long walk at the beach in the winter time
  • Learning to dance the tango
  • Learning to kick box
  • Zumba!
  • Taking myself out to restaurants
  • Going on a string of ridiculous first dates
  • Shopping — lots of shopping

And above all, I did a lot of reflecting. There was a lot of laying around on my yoga mat, deep-breathing through challenges and grappling with feelings of longing for a more active and interesting lifestyle. But don’t get me wrong, I did settle in some. I made a few really important friendships and I quieted myself down from my usual warp-speed pace. And you know what? By the end of it all… I was actually really grateful that I got to have those experiences. And I was also like, really fit. Which was cool.

And so now, looking back it feels almost crazy how quickly I’ve accelerated. I went from 0-60 practically over night. And with 9 months under my belt, I am starting to crave some quiet again and I realize that I have to make that time for myself. That I have to choose it and I have to honor it.

I need to take time to reflect more and to be alone. The alone that I choose for myself. The alone that is the opposite of isolated. The alone that feels so decadent and healthy and re-energizing. The alone that feels so good.

So all of this just to say, there will be more here soon. This is one of my favorite outlets of reflection myself and it’s been a while. But I am back and I have so much to say.

L.

 

 

 

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Nomad Pitches Tent in Boston

Approximately one year ago, Nomad was living on Long Island and began to feel that familiar itch – the itch to move, to uproot, to find greener pastures, watering holes and new territories to explore..

Nomad began to crave civilization. Intensely. She wanted to eat in new restaurants and navigate new boulevards. She wanted to find her tribe.

The slow lazy days spent on Long Island were a combined mixture of boredom and quiet stillness. The former has been known to drive Nomad insane, but the latter gave her great pleasure. However, Nomad began to struggle more and more with boredom and loneliness and decided it was time to make moves.

And so she set her sights on a city. A city that she had not before considered, and in fact had actually once shirked – Boston. As with all of Nomad’s previous moves, there was first a calling and then a gestation period before packing up her belongings and her tent and relocating it from one pasture to the next.

This particular gestation period seemed interminable. Work was busy as she prepared for someone to take over her position and students flocked in droves to the campus. In July her heart suffered a breaking open, and it was brutally uncomfortable. But Nomad is well practiced in the art of change, and she understood that preparing to move meant shedding the things that no longer served her so that she could travel light and far.

Nomad wanted  a quick fix and a change of pace to mend her broken heart. But as per usual, she had to sit and wait patiently. It felt like an eternity, but finally her plan to move started to pick up momentum in June. She found a place to pitch her tent – a great little spot in Somerville, an up and coming suburb of Boston. A quiet street, a small, cozy apartment, two lovely roommates- it was perfect. Convenient. Affordable. Good energy.  “I’ll take it,” she said without considering any other options. Only 3 months til she could move in. She didn’t want to wait, but didn’t have a choice.

Nomad was excited for her next steps and, as to be expected, a little nervous, too. While she was certain on having a place to call home, she was uncertain what her source of income would be. She fought that fear until she made herself sick with anxiety. One day she made up her mind to let go and trust – a practice that always serves her well.  Her employer had promised to make it work for her if she could go with the flow. And so that is what she did.

She read on the beach all summer, tanned her skin and sought the healing properties of the salted air and water. She centered herself with dance and resolved to move her body as much as possible. It helped draw September nearer to her.

And then it was finally time. Time to say goodbye to the people she loved on Long Island. This part of moving – the goodbye part – is always significantly hard and sad for Nomad. Her tears were metallic and salty as she hugged the people who had become closest to her. But she carries these people in her story and in her heart.

On her last day on the Island she packed the U-haul with her belongings and set off with her best friend by her side for Boston. He was going to deliver her to her new home before heading back to Long Island, and she was eternally grateful that she didn’t have to say that goodbye to him just yet.

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Her excitement outweighed the sadness she felt on leaving. She was anxious to settle in to her new home and to meet a particular man that had peaked her interest in a previous trip to Boston. There was something undeniably different and special about this man and she was excited to find out what.A first date was had as soon as Nomad had unpacked her last box. The best first date she’d ever been on. Needless to say, the two more than hit it off, and Nomad has spent the last four months since she arrived in Boston exploring the city clad in a pair of rose-colored glasses and a very full and happy heart.

She still has yet to learn many things about her new town. She doesn’t know how to get from point A to B without the help of Google Maps. She only has a handful of spots where she frequents for food and drink and has  only just joined a gym. But Nomad is excited to do what she does best — explore the nooks and crannies of her heart and the of the people and places all around her.

Stay tuned for the next chapter in Nomad’s many adventures. This one is sure to be full of excellent people and places.

Happy New Year to you and yours. May it be full of discovery!

Love, Nomad

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It will be worth it.

For the past three years I have been a shepherd, so to speak, for young international students who are leaving home (some for the first time) to come to the United States to spend a year, maybe two, living with an American host family as an au pair. My training school has ushered thousands upon thousands of students through its doors, welcoming and grounding them in preparation for their adventure ahead.

The question “what’s next?”is the common theme that bonds all of the students together, and our facility is a place where transition begins the process of transformation. At the Training School our students are on the precipice of an enormous change, perhaps one so drastic that they may not even recognize their former selves upon returning home to their countries at the end of their program.

And it is this raw energy of change that has fed my heart and soul, and which has driven me to work harder than ever before. Over the past few years I’ve come to discover that I value nothing more than pushing and expanding boundaries, stepping outside of my comfort zone and trusting that the “what’s next?” will be effortlessly handled when and as it is meant to be.

So as I prepare myself for a life transition of my own, I think it’s pertinent to reflect on some of the lessons my students and this school have taught me over the past 3 years.

1. The unknown is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. I’m literally reminded of this one hundred times a week. When I ask an au pair how they are feeling about meeting their host family for the first time 99.99% of them will say “I’m nervous and excited all at the same time.” And well, duh! That’s because they have only the faintest idea of what their life is going to be like in a mere 48hrs. Nothing is more unsettling than not being able to plan two days in advance. The thrill of it all is the adrenaline pumping through their veins and the realization that, “well, shit, I am here and I’m doing this and soon I will walk through their door and I will figure it out.”

2. Be aware of your point of no return …and embrace the momentum.  Each week as the au pairs fly in from all around the world and arrive to the Training School in New York, I sense they are feeling that they have crossed their point of no return. And while this isn’t exactly accurate, they are autonomous beings who can exercise their free-will and return home at any point, there is some genuine truth to the statement. After all, they got on an airplane. They flew around the world. They’ve now invested both their time and their money into this adventure and turning around feels harder with all the momentum pushing them forward into the next segment of their experience.

The point of no return, however, is where most humans begin to flip out. You’ve set the wheels in motion and guess what baby — physics. An object in motion will remain in motion, so unless you’re going to quickly build a huge brick wall to smash yourself into (which I don’t recommend by the way) your only other option is to hang on for the ride. Let it take you where you are meant to go and trust that you are going to make it to the other side.

I often use the metaphor of a roller coaster to explain my emotions to people, but this situation is quite literally the most accurate time to employ this visual.

You willingly get on the rollercoaster, possibly even choosing the front seat for greater effect. You buckle in for safety and as the roller coaster clicks higher and higher, you realize that return is no longer an option. This is when your heart begins to beat faster, you fear for your life, your stomach drops into your butt and you panic like a small child lost in Costco. But as you peer over the edge you begin to let go into an inexplicable trust that the structure to which you have so willingly entrusted your life has been soundly built. What’s more, in less than two minutes you will be back at the loading station with a few snapshots to purchase of your smiling (more like scream-cry-laughing) windblown face.

3. Know that you are never alone. One of the greatest aspects of the Training School is that everyone is in the same boat. The community of students is strong, even with so few days to get to know each other, the bonds that are formed are very strong because they are able to comprehend in such as deep way the nerves and excitement that their peers are experiencing.

This has served as a reminder to me that in any kind of transition, it is crucial to seek out those who are or who have recently gone through something of similar sorts. Taking care of yourself is your number one priority during any transition, but the task can feel daunting if you are trying to do it alone. Reach out to friends, family and significant others for support and comfort. Let them know that you believe in the process, and that you want them by your side to remind you that the trail you are blazing still leads to Rome.

4. Take off your armor. The most gratifying moments for me at work are when a student will come to me or a member of my team, and wearing their heart on their sleeve, demonstrate their exquisite vulnerability. Just this week I had a lovely girl from France reach out for help with her transition from home to the U.S. In speaking with her she told me that she has always been a pillar of strength for her family, and that being an au pair has always been a dream of hers. As her dream began to turn into reality, the pressure of holding  not just herself, but her family together as well, was weighing heavily on her. She was homesick, she couldn’t stop crying. She felt she needed to be strong and forge ahead.

My advice to her was take off her armor. Be vulnerable. Soften. It takes an incredible amount of energy to put on a face that exclaims, “everything is fine” when you’re actually feeling more like, “holy shit, everything is upside down.” That energy should be conserved and used to process your emotions. Don’t use your valuable energy to cover them up because the ramifications on your mind and body will be grave. Your future-self will thank you for doing the hard work.

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Transitions are super hard and can be incredibly uncomfortable and trying, but they are also pregnant with possibility, excitement and growth. It’s crucial to remember to be mindful. To be where you are. To observe what you are feeling and to give thanks to it. It’s ok to ask for guidance. It’s ok to ask for support. Trust. Soften into the discomfort — it will  be worth it.

 

 

 

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Today I feel like spring

The cool air touches my face and the apples of my cheeks turn that rosey color that I love so much. Today I feel like spring.

Today I feel ready for bloom. Ready to push up through the ground and burst open my petals. But I know it’s still just a bit too early–I am still a gentle bud and I must take my time. Be patient. Allow it to happen. The time is coming.

The time is always coming and going, going and coming and I will be ready when it is here. I will be ready to display my soft pallet. My graceful hues of green and yellow and rose. I will be ready to sing my sweet song to the world. The song that only I know how to sing, the song of me.

The barren land is rejuvenating itself and signs of growth are all around me.

And today I feel like spring.

buds

 

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Feeling All the Feels– A Subjective Analysis of Why We (I) Cry

The science of crying is fascinating, and there is a lot of research behind the mechanics of our tears. We cry to protect our eyeballz as well as to regulate an overwhelmed nervous system.  The kind of crying I want to talk about here is not so much the I’m-cutting-onions cry or the I’ve-got-a-piece-of-lint-in-my-eye cry but rather, the I’m-so-overwhelmed-with-emotion-I-need-to-ugly-cry cry.

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It’s a well known fact amongst those who know me that I unabashedly let my salty tears flow. I wear them proudly, my mascara bleeding down my face, my face red and blotchy, my eyes puffy and swollen. What isn’t so well known, however, are the reasons behind these tears…

…so let me flush out a few of my fave tear jerkers: 

The I’m-so-grateful cry:  An overwhelming sense of gratitude for a person, place or thing will get this type of tear flowing for me. Nothing feels quite as good as the I’m-so-grateful cry because it signals to my brain how much abundance I have generated. This direct link between gratitude and abundance is most advantageous for those who wish to manifest even more things to be grateful for into their lives. By focusing on your abundance you align your energy to attract more of the same.

The I’m-so-grateful cry is a fantastic indicator that you are on the fast track to a vastly abundant life. Simply put,  you are hard-wired this way, and this physical response is your body working hard for your success, so you don’t have to. Let these tears runneth over, cuz you’re #blessed.

The standing-on-top-of-a-mountain-one-with-nature cry: Another cry I am a big fan of. This cry comes from the overwhelming feeling that goes something along the lines of “Woah, I feel humbled by the magnitude and beauty of creation. How am I, in the grand scheme of it all, so small and insignificant and yet so uniquely a part of this?!”This mind blowing feeling and the consequential tear drops can be induced by a double rainbow (what does it mean?!) or the constellations in the night sky or standing beside the ocean or being high on a mountain top.

The reason I am a fan of these tears is their intuitive understanding that we are one with everything around us. They are a homecoming of sorts, a reminder. They signify to us the bigger picture and allow relief from our everyday woes and squabbles.

The empathy cry: This cry is an interesting one, and I’m not actually sure how common it is. Personally, I tend to cry when I am in the presence of others shedding their own tears. I conjure these tears as I do the passing of a yawn. If someone is opening up to me with their tears, there is a 99% chance that I will shed a few of my own, even if their pain has not triggered me in any way (that I am aware of in that moment).

I consider this cry one of my super powers. I don’t know why it happens to me, but I know it is directly linked to my life’s purpose–to help others help themselves. This kind of cry notifies others that they can trust me and be open with me. I will not judge their tears and I will provide a very safe space for them to find some catharsis.

Like all super powers, though, it is important to use them for good. Sharing a tear in empathy can be very helpful in helping people heal, however, crying too much can further trigger their stress and cause things to spiral out of hand. If you also have this super power, remember to check yourself before you wreck yourself (and another), aiight?

The broken-heart cry: For obvious reasons, I think it’s safe to say that I have a love/hate relationship with this cry. It’s the ugliest of ugly cries, and yet, in a twisted way, it feels so good.

Clearly the bruising of one’s ego from being dumped is different than, say, grieving the loss of a loved one. However, these reasons for a heartfelt sob can be lumped under the same category for scientific reasons, which I will attempt to explain (plagiarize) via multiple sketchy internet sources.

Some scientists believe that having a “good cry” can release toxins and waste products from your system, which is why we generally feel physically and emotionally better when we wring out your stress and/or grief in a good sob sesh.This kind of cry is very cathartic and supports our health and well-being, so I am a major proponent! Get it out of your body so that it doesn’t manifest into something more severe down the line.

The nostalgia cry (aka the transition cry aka the growth cry): Last but not least is the nostalgia cry. For me, this is generally linked with the gratitude cry, though it can also stand alone in its own bittersweet melancholy. The nostalgia cry is temporal and beckons fond memories that have or will soon come to pass.

This might be my most common cry as I am a being in constant motion. I cry during transitions because they are a time of great reflection for me. It is not so much the fear of the unknown or moving away from people who are dear to me–this is merely at the surface level. Deep down I know that the unknown thrills me to my core and I that I will forever be connected to those who matter most to me.

The reason I personally cry tears of nostalgia is because they are indicators of my amazing successes. They are my growth tears. The tears I invoke when my psyche wants me to recognize how far I have come, how much I’ve conquered. They are my own way of recognizing of my hard work–my blood, sweat and tears if you will. What’s more, the more profound the experience or lesson, the harder I will cry.

According to my own very un-scientific reasoning, this cry is also closely linked with the science of the broken-heart cry as it allows for a softening of the nervous system. With this kind of cry I induce a feeling of total relaxation. For a brief moment, I am able to relish the satisfaction of seeing something through to completion. This pause and time for reflection is ever so important before I begin the next leg of my ascent.

So let us embrace our tears so that we can relish our vast abundance, be a part of it all, change the world with our superhero powers, support our well-being and rejoice in our accomplishments.

Tissue anyone?

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.” -Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

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What I’ve Learned by Being Alone

Before sitting down to write I did a quick Google search on the following words: loneliness & alone.

The results were just as I’d expected.

There were tons of posts on the growing public health concern of loneliness, Psychology Today articles on combatting it as well as the human need for socialization. What I didn’t see in my quick search, however, was what I want to write about here — what I’ve learned and the benefits of being alone.

For the past year and half I’ve been contemplating the concept of being alone. I moved to Long Island in 2014 for a dream opportunity. I packed up my belongings and transplanted myself in a locale quite culturally foreign to me. I came here without a network of friends and only some limited family nearby. I was, for all intents and purposes, alone.

Before I came out here I had a vibrant social life and a unique circle of friends of all ages. I’d also never truly been alone before, at least not in the way that I have been in this new setting. Here I have not been able to call up a friend and announce that on a moments notice, I’d be at their door. I’ve always had friends to explore and hangout with. So, as you can imagine, this change was pretty abrupt and harsh for me.

At first I rejected the area and its inhabitants. I assured myself that it was time for me to put my head down and to work hard — harder than ever before. If I threw myself into my work, I wouldn’t have time to feel lonely. This was partially true. The first few months I was here, I worked like a dog. I tried to push the loneliness out by working so hard that the weekends could only be a time for rest, relaxation and recuperation. But as expected, feelings of loneliness would creep up on me when I least expected them. There I was again – at the beach, in random parking lots, in my kitchen, on the phone, in the car – crying. I had never been so lonely, and for so long, in my entire life.

When I sat down with the purpose of writing about being alone out here, my intent was to explain the life lesson that I’ve been learning and not to make anyone feel bad for me…or worse, for ME to feel for myself. Just so I’m clear, loneliness does not necessarily equate to unhappiness for me.

Sure, I have days where I feel melancholy and nostalgic and wish I had my best friends nearby. I’ve even had extended periods of time where I’ve felt this way. However, what I’ve been feeling recently is more balance between being a social butterfly and being alone.

Before I moved here, there were many things I didn’t know about myself. I never needed to ask myself questions like Who am I? What do I want most? Do I love myself? I had a barrage of social reinforcements that I defined myself against, and our collective mentality was supreme. I was able to be a unique part of a whole, but I never felt truly whole myself without my friend group.  But now that’s different, and I am different. I have more insight now that I didn’t have before, and I know myself better.

I have a better understanding of my social patterns and tendencies.  I know that when I feel alone I use Instagram and Facebook as a crutch to to feel connection. Or that I pursue romantic possibilities even when I’m not fully keen on the person.  And I know that I will pick up the phone and dial everyone in my ‘favorites’ in order to hear a voice on the line who can reassure me that I am still awesome.

These patterns and tendencies are hard to admit because they go against one of my core values–give to yourself what you would ask of others to give to you. To simplify what I mean by that would essentially be to say, “Hey, go connect with yourself. Be your own best friend. Fall in love with yourself.”

But I am only human. And I frequently forget that I am one with everyone and everything — I am never truly alone.

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So what, you may ask, is the benefit of being alone for this long? For me, it has been having enough time to take a good look in the mirror. In the past two years I’ve been able to shift some of my most negative patterns in a more positive direction because I’ve had the time to look within. None of this means that I’ve perfected my ways, but I’ve definitely made progress.

I’ve learned to value myself and my time more. I have learned to be non-judgmental and kind to myself when I am having a off day. I’ve learned that meeting new people takes time and requires lots of patience. I’ve learned to be more patient. I’ve learned that connection is all about quality and not about quantity. I’ve learned to be more aware of my time spent on social media and handheld devices. I’ve learned to get out there and do things that interest me. I’ve learned to kick box and to tango. I’ve learned to be more grateful for the things that I do have. I’ve learned to relish a quiet Friday evening at home, and most of all I’ve learned that “me time” is a necessity.

So while it’s been a bumpy ride over the course of the past few years here on Long Island, I’ve learned a great deal about who I am as a person and what I am capable of manifesting all on my very own.

 

 

 

 

 

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In transit

In transit, I transition.

Tran. Sit.

Sit quietly and listen. 

Listen to the space in between the words.

Listen to the pregnant pauses of the transition.

In transit I transform. 

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She Will Move Mountains

As a lover of nature and all things symbolic there is nothing more moving to me than a mountain metaphor. The peaks and the valleys of life are the moments in which we experience our highest highs and, naturally, our lowest lows. I am drawn to the mountains for many reasons, one of which being that they are my natural habitat. Growing up in Vermont I grew up accustomed to the embrace of the Green Mountains. As such, I have always felt at home in the protection of a great mountain. And so, whether they are soft and green or jagged and rocky, it’s undeniable that the mountains are where I feel a sense of true belonging.

On this trip to Poland, I had two objectives–culture and nature (mountains), and I am grateful to say that I got everything that I wanted and more.

I just spent the last 3 days in a city called Zakopane, which is nestled away in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The down town itself is kitschy and touristy, but the mountains that surround Zakopane are magnificent and majestic. What’s more, the room I had booked for three nights in a quaint bed and breakfast called Domki Javorina, was a little slice of heaven on earth.


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I arrived in Zakopane on Thursday morning with one intention–to get myself as swiftly as possible to the peak of a mountain. I wanted to experience the natural and metaphorical high of climbing into the clouds. And like any outdoor junky feels in the presence of a gorgeous mountain range, I knew that the Tatra’s would give me my fix.

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Day one in Zakopane didn’t offer enough time to bus myself to the national park, so I opted to hike up to the top of a nearby ridge recommended by the sweet lady at my B&B. To my disappointment. there were so many strange tourist attractions on the top of this mountain, and it annoyed me that man had conquered this place and put up ridiculous games and restaurants in order to turn a profit. It was a low moment, in which I sincerely hoped that the next day in Tatra Park would rectify.

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Thankfully, the next day did not disappoint. The sun was shining with all of its force when I woke up early Friday morning. I set off to find the bus that would take me to the park so I could hike out to Morskie Oko, a well known lakeside vista that the internet instructed me was a must see. After getting 16 different sets of directions to the bus station, I boarded a bus in the direction of Kusiniçe, which I would come to find out later was not at all where I was trying to go. I had a quick and sarcastic, “oh, great” moment, before I confirmed that there were some good trails in the direction I was headed in.  And so, equipped with my trail map in hand, I started walking. To where? I had no clue. I just climbed and climbed and climbed following the blue trail markers higher and higher. IMG_2577

Along the way I met a few Polish trekkers and we exchanged some basics. They were astonished that I was from the USA and hiking alone in the Tatras. With a steep 5 miles behind me, I arrived at a large shelter. I asked around about where to head from there, and was told by various people that there was a lake nearby, perhaps another mile away. Again, I got mixed messages about where and how and if it was safe or not. Due to the glorious sun, the avalanche alert was high, and I was slightly under equipped for the snow without trekking poles or my gators, but I thought “what would Drake do?” And decided that he would tell me Y.O.L.O (you only live once). So I decided to heed the MOTTO and risk it in order to see the lake.

I walked along this narrow trail — if you could even call it that — and arrived 45 minutes later to Czarny Slaw Polski or Black Lake as it’s called in English. Ironically, Black Lake was completely covered in white snow, and it took me a second to realize that I had arrived at my destination.

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I was almost completely alone, save for one other person, whom I passively cajoled into taking my photo after he watched me struggle with the auto-timer on my Nikon for a good 5 minutes. We chatted briefly, before he returned to his spot, content, like me, to be quiet in the midst of such an awe-inspiring view.

This was the peak that I was striving for, and the funny thing was that at the beginning of the day I had imagined myself fighting against throngs of tourists up to Morskie Oko–an achievable vista for people of all athletic abilities. My original game plan was to go easy on my first day and get my footing.  I wanted to cordially get to know the park a bit before I conquered something more challenging. But of course, I never do things the “easy” way. I guess the universe knew what was best for me on this day. After all, I had set an intention that morning to proceed courageously. The Universe knew what I was craving and directed me accordingly.

At the lake I found a nice boulder and climbed up on top of it. I sat with my legs crossed, inhaling and exhaling deeply. I traced the outline of the peaks before me with my eyes, trying to memorize all of their zigs and zags. I knew a photo would never accurately portray the view. As I sat, I meditated on my morning’s intention, and what kept coming up was how far I would travel for something or someone that I love. Sitting alone, deep in the middle of the mountains, on the border of Poland and Slovakia, thousands of miles from home, I confirmed that I would, indeed, move mountains for the ideas that I believe in and the people that I love. In order to do this, though, I realized that can’t protect my heart’s ambitions from the fear of failure or heartbreak. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to be willing to find yourself in the valley, if you ever want to reach the peak.

Walking back down the mountain, I did my favorite 5-4-3-2-1 meditation that a friend taught me on El Camino de Santiago. To do this meditation you must describe, in as much detail as possible, 5 things you see, 5 things you hear and 5 things you feel. Then 4 things, then 3, 2, 1. I love this meditation because it brings you deeply into the present moment, insisting that you experience every detail around and within you. It doesn’t allow you to relive what has happened in the past or invent what will happen in the future.

Just here. Just now. Just the conifer trees whose branches bow from the heavy green needles, or the silvery snow, which is pock-marked from the trekking poles of fellow adventurers, or the sound of a bird’s wings flapping, or the way your muscles tighten and release carrying you up and down the mountain.

As the sun began to set over the mountain, I had to remind myself to proceed slowly down the steep and slippery trail. I didn’t want to get hurt, especially all by myself. So after finding center from my meditation, I allowed myself some music to help me concentrate and to keep the fear/exhilaration of being alone in these bold mountains from overwhelming me. I had already walked some 12 miles and knew that my legs were fatigued and I still had a few more to go. I had to keep it light, physically and mentally.

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After stopping in a restaurant for a beer and a face full of pierogies Ruskie, I reached my bed and breakfast, showered off and collapsed into my bed ready to sleep instantly. As I drifted off, I gave thanks for the blue bird day, for the exciting adventure, for the wise lessons mother nature always provides, and for the mountains I moved.

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On courage and travel

I received the following Note from the Universe to my email a few days ago, and I’ve been pondering the word courage since.

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The word courage derives itself from the Latin root ‘cor,’ which means heart. And while the word is strongly associated with acts of bravery or heroism, it’s literal definition is “an act from the heart.”

What my Note from the Universe so aptly recognizes, is that I often act from my heart, though common sense would advise me otherwise. And while common sense is typically a value that we prioritize in our lives, I have found that acts of courage– acts of the heart–are the ones that have served me the most.

In relation to my love of travel, courage has been a common thread throughout. Moving to San Francisco was an act of courage for me. Financially and logistically, it was beyond common sense. But I felt this feeling so deeply in my heart that it was right, and so I went for it. To follow suit, Burkina Faso, France and Morocco were of the same genre.

Walking El Camino de Santiago was also in protest of common sense. What human being would think that walking 500 (painful) miles across Spain was a good idea, unless they knew that it was for the benefit of their heart.

I’ve heard quite a few times on this most recent trip to Poland that I am so brave to travel alone. But I would say no, I’m not brave at all, I’m courageous. This solo trip across Poland has been a matter of the heart. I have friends who live all over Europe that I could have easily gone to visit on this vacation. That would have been common sense. But something in my heart was telling me to see this country while I had the opportunity, and I’m glad that I listened carefully, because it has been an incredible journey.

I have seen many things, but as usual, the internal journey is always the most meaningful. I have learned from traveling solo, what it means to spend some quality time with myself. The amount of time that I’ve had to ponder my relationships, my passions and my purpose has been invaluable. It is crucial for me to spend time asking myself questions, listening to my responses and then pulling them apart and separating them into categories–head and heart.

There is no better place to do this kind of digging than in another country. Why? Because you are outside of your comfort zone anyway. Once you’ve broken down that barrier of comfort, you can hear your heart more clearly. Couple this with the fact that your senses are on hyperdrive from experiencing the novelties of being in a foreign country, and you have a recipe for heart that is incredibly potent.

Today I am setting off into the mountains in Tatra National Park in Poland. For me, there is nothing quite like the mountains to get my heart pumping with excitement. I am looking forward to hearing all that it has to tell me today.

With love,

L

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Auschwitz and Birkenau

I woke up at 6:50 a.m in a drunken stupor from my night of Vodka. Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps were on the day’s itinerary and I had to make my way to the bus station in order to catch my 8:40 bus. I woke up and ate breakfast at my hotel—dark bread with cheese and meat, cucumbers and tomatoes topped off with a hard boiled egg. It was hearty and filling and I thought about taking food for the road, but decided I didn’t want to carry it in my little fanny pack. I set out on the bus for the hour and half trip west of Krakow to the town of Oswiecim. I had been anticipating that the day was going to be a difficult journey, but I had no idea just how taxing it would truly be.

Upon arrival to Auschwitz, tourists are greeted by an administrative mindfuck. People are shuffled into confused lines—groups and individuals. Nobody knows just what to do or where to go as you approach the security checkpoint required to enter the museum. You have to elbow your way through a throng of people, just to be told that your backpack or purse is too large to take into the museum. Many people make it to the front of the line and then are promptly directed to the baggage check, only to have to rejoin the ridiculous line at the end. Thank god I didn’t have to deal with this (fanny packs for life), but I stood there pondering who the hell thought this was a good or efficient way to herd so many tourists into the gates of Auschwitz.

In fact, while there are many rules for tourists visiting in Auschwitz, there felt as if there was no system to regulate the thousands upon thousands of people who visit there each week. Perhaps this speaks to the place itself– how can there be order in a place that doesn’t make any sense to begin with? After passing through security twice, once because it was required, and a second time because I had to use the restroom (…located outside of the security point), I checked in for my pre-arranged tour.

I joined a group of thirty other English speaks as our tour guide took us on a 3.5 hour long journey through recent history. The camp, which was liberated a mere 71 years ago, shocked me to my core. Of course I’ve read about the holocaust and I’ve even been to the holocaust museums in Geneva and Jerusalem, but nothing could prepare me for the tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Nothing.

As you walk through the world’s largest cemetery, you are overcome with a sense of disbelief. How could this have happened ? It just doesn’t make sense. We walked through the grounds at Auschwitz, and viewed the bone chilling evidence of the atrocities that took place there. When you enter the camp you pass through a gate that says “Arbeit Macht Frei, ” which means “Work makes you free.” The sarcastic nature of this statement is maniacal. Walking in, you are told of a band, which played music in order to keep the prisoners marching in step and who would play classical music upon their return from a hard day’s work. Even imagining the sound was eerie, and my heart broke completely when I thought about how planned and perfect the Nazi Party’s final solution was. Every detail, right down to the soundtrack, was calculated and exact. The evil genius of it all sucked the life out of me.

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We were taken into rooms displaying shoes of the victims, both young and old, and suitcase upon suitcase marked with names and home addresses, demonstrating the hope of the prisoners that they would one day return home. They were stripped of everything—most of all their dignity.

The hardest part of the entire tour was entering into a room, which was filled with two tons of human hair clipped off the heads of the women and children. It was could literally sense the total shock and disbelief of every single person in the room. It wasn’t a possession like the other things we were seeing. This was physical human evidence, and it was absolutely appalling. Our guide explained that the hair of these prisoners was used to make blankets and wigs for German civilians. In fact, everything from prosthetic legs of Jewish WWI heroes, to shoes, combs, glasses and even the ashes and feces of the the prisoners were recycled by the German S.S.

“Germany was built with their dust.”

The pangs of hunger I began to feel come the afternoon were juxtaposed with life-size pictures of starving 55 lb. prisoners. The perspective alone would have been enough to shut me up, though it didn’t need to because I had already been rendered mute.

Birkenau was worse. You could feel the dichotomy of the painful deaths that took place there.  Our guide explained to us the difference between anhilation and extermination. The first being the prisoners of Birkenau who passed from a slow and torturous existence if they were fit to work, and the second was the immediate mass murder of those deemed otherwise useless to the Nazis. As tourists we had the luxury of turning around and walking back through the gates, but for the prisoners there they weren’t as lucky, and many of them walked forward to their death. The remnants of the gas chambers and furnaces were horrific. The thought alone makes my heart break, but seeing them first hand is another thing in and of itself.

Throughout the day tears would well in my eyes, but the shock of it all wouldn’t allow them to fall. My deep inhales and exhales only took the dark energy of the place into my cells. After the tour, I boarded the bus in the direction of Krakow, and immediately fell asleep. The life had been completely sucked out of me. Every limb felt as heavy as my heart. I walked back to my hotel and crawled into bed at 6:30 p.m. uncertain that I would be able to go in search of food, even though I had not eaten since early that morning.

I knew, however, that I needed to take care of myself. I needed to be comforted and fortunately enough for me, there was a local Milk Bar called U Babci Maliny 5 minutes walk from my hotel. I ate Grandma’s pierogies and cheese pancakes and drank a cold beer. Comfort food for my aching soul. 

I came home and finally cried, and it felt good to cleanse the disappointment I felt in humanity. It was a tough but beautiful day, and it reminded of the importance of striving for social justice. When we say, “Never again” we should mean that. Not just for the Jews but for all disenfranchised groups of humans. If I learned anything from my day at Auschwitz and Birkenau, it’s that a hateful ideology can evolve into so much more than words. There have been other genocides since the Holocaust, and ideological wars that have ravaged whole societies. We have to spread awareness, acceptance, understanding, peace and above all, love.

Fear is the opposite of love. Fear builds walls, hope builds bridges. Here’s to the privilege of the future.

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