The Woods

“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.” – George Washington Carver

I worked Friday evening and Saturday so I’m enjoying a Monday at home. I woke slowly and walked before doing anything – including having a cup of coffee. The weather is beautiful and coastal Carolina is green and lovely again. The woods always have a way of grounding me.

I grew up in Southern California – which is basically desert. By late spring and definitely summer, the world turned brown. Winter and early spring are the green seasons in SoCal – as the infrequent rains are more frequent in the winter. I love that most of the year here is green and lush. I live next to a river. But it’s also next to a highway and a bridge over that river. In the winter, I see the constant movement on the highway, as headlights can be seen through the woods. When I returned from California recently, the trees were full of leaves. I hardly see any headlights from the highway now. By summer, the less I will see the highway that borders the river and lies beyond the woods. The kudzu, that dies back in the winter, will once again cover the trees with even more green. The growth will increase so much in the next few months, that the river can only be seen from my second story.

Although I love the salt air and the constancy of the ocean. There’s something restorative about the woods. I’m looking forward to spending time amongst the redwood forests, soon.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

— Henry David Thoreau

It’s Gonna Hurt

john green quote, it's gonna hurt because it matters, elaina avalos

“Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.” – John Green

I’ve had a bit of a rough week. There’s some uncertainty hanging around that’s absolutely driving me nuts and with an impending trip to California for my dad’s funeral, it was just a lot. I also had an event at work today. Though it was small as events go – they’re always lots of work and a lot of moving pieces. But what was jarring about this week was that in between doing everything else for work, I was doing things like…writing an obituary for my dad and looking at houses online for a potential move. Toward the end of the week, I was straight up not having a good time. 🙂 I wished for things that I just couldn’t make happen, no matter how much I wished or how hard I prayed. One of those things I wanted, was to make my feelings cooperate, as I grapple with very mixed emotions and really crazy circumstances right now. Our feelings are complex. So are various events, circumstances, and relationships (or relationships we wish to be in), in our lives. I’ve found myself all over the map with my emotions.

It’s possible for things to be more than one way. It’s possible to feel hopeful about a future with someone you care about, and also extremely fearful about getting hurt. It’s possible to look forward to a trip, but know it will be painful. It’s possible to be hopeful about a change, but worried somehow it won’t work out. Lately, I’ve gotten it in my head that life is one way or another. So dumb. I’m not really a black and white person. So how is it that I found myself thinking I should feel one specific way about any of the things going on?

The beauty in life can often be found in these very different and opposing sides of our emotions. Life is not simple. There are so very many shades and colors. Like the John Green quote (and is the case in my favorite novel of his), things we love can also mean greater hurt. I am incredibly excited about four days and three nights in one of my favorite places on earth. I’m also extremely sad to be going to California because my dad passed away. That’s hard stuff.

Falling for someone you care about, feels good. It feels hopeful. It’s also scary as hell. I can feel anxious that it was never what I hoped it would be. I can feel excited and happy and content at other moments. Sometimes in the same day. These feelings are not mutually exclusive. They can exist all at once (as weird as that sounds).

As I head into my final few days at work before going to California, I’m reminding myself that all of the wildness of this time means I can feel many things at once. Taking care of myself and ensuring I’m present and able to experience all life has to offer, means that I also have to accept all of the complexities of life and our emotions.

I think we can have a tendency to want to insulate ourselves from hurt or hard things. It’s a normal reaction. If you find yourself there, I wanted to share this – as it was quite comforting, though I wouldn’t have thought so.

Society’s Expectations

cory muscara, letting go of your mind's dreams, elaina avalos

I follow Cory Muscara on social media. I’m not sure how I happened across him but it was probably via one of the podcasts I listen to or via one of many mental health professionals I follow, who shared his content. Dr. Rick Hanson, maybe? I listen to several podcasts that teach about mental health and wellness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and even neurobiology. So it’s not surprising I found him. Muscara was a monk at one time and is now a teacher and speaker as well as an instructor of positive psych at UPenn. I find many of his posts extremely encouraging and helpful. THIS one is soo good. He quotes Viktor Frankl (who has some quotes that blow my mind, by the way) in that reel. It’s incredibly powerful, in my opinion.

But this quote above, which he posted on Facebook, irked me. He writes in the caption:

“If you want to align with the life you are meant to live, you have to let go of all of your preconceived ideas of who you should be, where you should go, and what your life should look like, even the longstanding dreams your mind has desperately held onto. The soul’s path is a quieter, more subtle, moment-to-moment unfolding. Sometimes your mind and its dreams are aligned with it, other times they’re reciting outdated scripts, fears, and desires.”

So why did it irk me? It got under my skin because if there’s one thing I don’t want to think about, it’s letting go of the “longstanding dreams” my mind has “desperately held onto.” For me there is no more clear longstanding dream than being a mom and having a family. Can I technically consider myself a mom? Yes. Has the dream happened the way I thought it should, planned for it to, or hoped it would? Not even a little.

For the most part, I’m not sure it’s not part of God’s plan for my life in some way. I truly believe I was meant to be a mom. Until I’m incapable, I will do whatever I can – to have the family I’ve always dreamed of. But why would Muscara’s post, when generally I’ve found him to be thought provoking and encouraging, make me frustrated and uncomfortable? Because maybe I am still holding onto old paths to get where I want to go? Or maybe my attachment to a specific set of plans, ideals, or expectations has tied me to a path that isn’t mine to walk?

That doesn’t mean motherhood or a family isn’t in my future. But maybe it does mean that I’ve so focused myself on the dream, I’ve lost sight of the “moment-to-moment unfolding” of what God has for my soul. Or maybe it’s just that in releasing my attachment to a specific idea, I’d find a much better plan. I’m not really sure. What I do know is that my life has never taken a normal course. Not ever. I’ve always been behind schedule in literally everything. Haha. If you only knew. I joke about being old – but the truth is, I’m convinced my life has only just started.

When I get caught up in society’s expectations, I can find myself dissatisfied with the direction I’m walking. But I’ve never had any desire to live a life that complies with the status quo or the expectations of most. Never. Even from the time I was a tiny girl. In fact, the mere thought of doing what everyone else does/did infuriated me. Haha. But somewhere along the way, other’s expectations started to define my own life. I lost sight of that bold little girl who just didn’t care what things were “supposed” to be like.

I don’t know where the path is leading. I certainly have a wish, a hope, a dream. But I don’t care how I get there – not really. The paths I take to get there – or anywhere for that matter – should not be my focus or even an afterthought. Nor do I want to be so tied to the dream itself that I miss the life I was meant to live. I think I’m standing on this precipice of change and in spite of how hard change and opening myself up to hurt and disappointment can be, it’s the only way to the kind of life I want.

Earlier I mentioned Muscara’s reel that featured a Frankl quote. Here’s my favorite from Frankl.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl

While it has taken some work, I’ve slowly seen the power of slowing down before responding or acting. There is power in choosing my response versus reacting. I think this fits well with the Muscara quote, to be honest. At some point, even after we determine to accept that our mind’s vision of our dreams and future may not be the full picture, it can be hard to stay on course. Especially when other’s expectations creep back in. But in slowly ourselves down – in between that moment of stimulus where the thought enters the mind – and our response, lies our power to choose a response. With that power comes a freedom that I’ve now experienced, in a way I would not have imagined, a couple of years ago. I’m still working on it – every day. Today, I sucked at it and let a very challenging person get to me. But if we can slow that response thing down when a thought enters the mind (the stimulus) it can truly change our lives.

The trajectory we find ourselves following can be moved along by the internal knowing we’re on the right path, met the right one, or found our calling, etc., etc. If we’re too concerned with the outside world, societal standards, and what everyone else thinks, we can easily get knocked off course. In the moment, when I’m tempted to judge my life and future path based on what everyone else thinks should happen, that is the moment to choose my response. In this case, it’s to throw off the expectations everyone else has, which weigh me down, and keep moving, moment-by-moment, to the life I know I’m meant for.

Life Can Change in an Instant

I took this photo of the last full moon, not knowing then, how quickly things would shift and change in my life. But I’m well acquainted with the split second moments where everything changes. Last year it was my brother’s death, Monday it was my dad going into the hospital. This time, I’m not sure he will make it.

I fly out on Tuesday. And while I have to see my dad and will, there’s a lot of business to deal with and paperwork to track down and phone calls to be made, too. Doing it from here, while I also need to advocate for his care in the ICU, is impossible.

But the moon – that’s where I started. The last full moon was March 7th. In a matter of a few days, things were so different. Life can change in an instant. I know we know this. But we don’t live it.

We live in the past, we live in the future. Last night and early this morning I was anxious about things a week ahead of me. I don’t even know any of those things will happen. None of us knows what the future holds. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to remain grounded in the moment. It’s all we have – all we are guaranteed. I don’t want to lose the opportunities I have in front of me, because I’m way ahead, worrying about what may never come.

Life changes and shifts in an instant. Don’t lose out on living fully, loving hard, taking chances, and telling those you love – that you love and care about them. This all sounds rather cliché, I know. But that’s what you get out of multiple losses & grief packed in tight over a few years. Life is too f-ing short to play small and not chase down what & who you want.

Selfless Love

yung pueblo, yung pueblo lighter
yung pueblo, yung pueblo selfless love

As usual, yung pueblo seems to share things that hit me right in the gut. I saw both of these posts this morning. Two things have kept me single far longer than I ever imagined – focusing too much on my career and a dogged determination to find what yung highlights in both of these posts. I am not going to lie – I have always been more fearful of being alone and miserable in a marriage than I was of being alone, period. If I’m alone, I still have a life that has meaning. But alone in a marriage seems like a horrible place to be. And so, I’ve been willing to wait until I found it – until I found him. Or he found me – whatever. I was close. I’ve been close. Close, but no cigar. I didn’t realize the complications that come with being older and single – particularly when you don’t have kids and want them. Nonetheless, I’ve recently had this eye opening experience that makes me 100% certain that waiting was good. Waiting was right. It will (eventually) end where I hope it will. Sometimes, we need reminders of what is worth waiting for, pursuing, praying for, and fighting for. A selfless love – one that places the other person before self, and that is just as dedicated to a partner’s wellness? That is worth waiting for.