Living with JOY!

Do you know what brings you joy?  I mean like the kind of joy that leaves you smiling from ear to ear, where you just want the moment to never end.  What makes you feel most alive?  (I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!)

As I came out of my years of illness and found myself on my own again, I realized that I had forgotten what made me happy.  I had gotten so used to living a life of stress and turmoil that it had been a long time since I really thought about the things that add joy to my life.  I worked with a woman who had me make a list of things that bring me joy.  The items came slow at first, but as I wrote, the momentum built.  It was around this time as I was working to uncover the things that brought me joy, that my son asked me a question and then brought up a point that really hit home for me.  “Mom, what do you do while I’m at school all day?”  At that time he was probably 6 years old, a first grader, and I was working every weekend and had him on my days off.  So, I started listing things like go grocery shopping, clean the house, do laundry, read, nap.  Basically, all of the things that I didn’t do on the days that I worked.  He then said something like, “boy, grownups really do a lot of work all the time,” and/or “grownups don’t do much fun stuff.”  It was so simple yet so profound.  What WAS I doing with my free time??!  Was I making the most of it?  The answer was no, I was not.  So I decided to make changes to my life.

Some of the things on my list were:

  1. Reading with my son
  2. Dancing
  3. White water rafting
  4. Camping under the stars
  5. Hiking
  6. Seeing live music
  7. Exploring with no destination
  8. Skinnydipping
  9. Listening to music
  10. Talking with friends
  11. Reading
  12. Traveling
  13. Drumming
  14. Writing
  15. Being around my whole immediate family
  16. Laughing with a friend
  17. Listening to my son tell me about something he’s really excited about
  18. Jumping into rivers
  19. Snorkeling with fish
  20. Being outside
  21. Yoga
  22. Feeling sun on my skin
  23. Lying on the beach listening to the water
  24. Jumping into lakes
  25. Meeting new people
  26. Hanging out on warm boulders in/near rivers

From March of 2013 to July 2015, I worked on a very stressful unit in the hospital with adult oncology patients.  At first, nursing felt like my passion, my purpose in life, but after a few years with a heavy load of patients, sometimes six at a time, my enthusiasm turned into exhaustion.  I’d go home, shower, eat cereal for dinner, and go to bed, then wake up and do it all over again for the next two days.  My days off felt less like true days off and more like days to recover.  I was still on loads of medications back then and didn’t really feel like I had my health back yet, so I was taking it easy physically and trying to get extra rest on my days off.  I also worked to rebuild my life while learning my new role as a single, working parent.

In July of 2015, I landed my current job working primarily with babies and kids.  It had always been my dream nursing job, floating between all of my favorite units from nursing school.  Pediatrics was always my goal for nursing.  I was so happy for this change.  And after starting a homeopathy remedy in January of 2015, I was now beginning to feel the positive effects of it on my mental, emotional, and physical health.  All of this led me to the place at the end of 2015 when I was feeling so good, and felt like I had the energy to focus on how I wanted my life to look.  And I even had my son noticing that I was filling my days with a lot of boring adult stuff.

So, I began to get outside more.  I had always loved being outside.  I now felt like I had ability to start getting out hiking again.  At this point, my last flare of pericarditis was a few years behind me in November of 2013.  I had been noticing the strength of my body coming back and the exhaustion dissipating.  I sought to make new friends and explore new places.  I ended up finding myself outside in the mountains in rivers a lot, and at the coast next to the ocean.  I started to notice how alive I felt when was hiking on a new trail.  I felt the joy in me well up as I jumped off rocks into rivers and lakes.  I began to find my passions.  As I noticed the things that made me feel most alive, I stored them in my mind and made a conscious effort to do those things as often as possible!  And my life began to get really full.  I was LIVING!  I worked to do chores for a portion of one of my days off, so that I could spend the rest of my time doing things that fed my soul.  I have lived like this ever since.  Sometimes I am urged to go for a hike, and sometimes I am urged to curl up and read a good book and take a nap.  The point is that I stopped worrying about all of the adult things that I am “supposed” to do, and instead I started to do the things that would bring me the most joy.

Nothing makes me happier than exploring and having fun with my son.  At the beginning of the summer this year, we sat down to make a list of things that we hoped to do during summer vacation.  I knew that with only 10 weeks, summer would go by so fast, and that we could easily get swept up in a bunch of lazy days if we didn’t start out with some kind of direction.  At my son’s request, we took turns listing things.  I’d name something, and then he’d name something.  We went back and forth until we had filled an 8.5 x 11 sheet of printer paper.  We wrote down things like backpacking, the local trampoline place, walking at a local oak preserve, hiking and camping in the local NP took up several, the local arcade, Six Flags, seeing Matisyahu live again, and going to the beach.  We actually checked a lot off our list!  And we had a blast!  Having the list kept me focused as I planned our time together week to week.  I highly recommend that you try this approach to summer if you’re like me and my son and want to squeeze out as much fun from the 10 or so weeks that your child/children have off from school in the summer.  I had the advantage of having four days off in a row every week to make so many things possible.  But, this would also be a helpful approach for weekends off as well.

Why do we do the things that we do?  Do you ever think about that?  Are we living the life that we want to live, or are we living the life that we have been told that we ‘should’ live?  Every day, we get bombarded by ‘shoulds’.  I ‘should’ go to college.  I ‘should’ become a lawyer, doctor, teacher etc.  I ‘should’ buy a new car.  I ‘should get married’.  I ‘should’ have kids.  I ‘should’ buy a house a fill it with a bunch of stuff.  I have always sort of just naturally lived outside the norm, but I also found myself fulfilling a lot of the ‘shoulds’.  These are just some examples that I think are pretty universal.  For instance, when I graduated high school, I felt like I HAD to go to college.  I didn’t even think there was another choice for me.  I mostly put that on myself.  Sure it was talked about in high school a lot, but at the time, I felt like taking out loans and going to college was the only way that I’d be able to move from my hometown and travel.  I see now that that’s just not the case.  A friend’s awesome daughter just graduated from high school and is now spending a year in New Zealand on a work visa.  And my inner teenager is completely inspired by this move!  The possibilities!  There are many other ‘shoulds’ that I am sure you are thinking about right now.  I could go on with other examples of how I would ‘should’ myself through the years.  Are you ‘shoulding’ yourself about something in your own life?  Are the ‘shoulds’ from other people or society causing you to miss that you’re living a beautiful life just as you are? It is OK to throw out what other people expect of you and live the life that YOU want to live!  Life is too short to not live your own joy!

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to stop it with the ‘shoulds’!  When a ‘should’ came up, I would acknowledge it and look at where it was coming from and then just dismiss it.  Even in my current life, if I wasn’t so strong on my path, I could be really giving myself a hard time by comparing myself to other people my age.  I could be feeling like my life is lacking, because of comparison to other people.  But, I choose not to live that way.  I base my success in life not on whether or not I own a house or drive a fancy car, or have an intact family or have a bunch of fancy gadgets, but on my level of happiness and inner peace.  I do more things that give me joy and peace.  I find that peace generally comes when I quiet my mind and accept life as it is.  The happiness comes when I add more things to my daily living that bring me joy.  These aren’t impossible things, but it takes work to recognize the things that are stealing your peace and to adjust accordingly.  It takes work to shut off your mind and the ‘shoulds’ that you’ve been hanging onto for so long.  But the worthwhile result of all of that work is a contentment that has to really be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated.

I know that we aren’t meant to work all the time, never doing the things that make us happy, and then die.  That’s not at all what life is about.  If that is your life and you aren’t happy, then I would suggest that you work to change it.  I think the root of the issue is that most of us feel a void in us.  We aren’t sure why it’s there.  We don’t know how it got there, or when, but it’s there.  It’s that feeling that makes people shop and gather a bunch of things that they’ll never use.  It’s the feeling that causes people to jump from one relationship to the next.  Because that feeling of void in us is so strong and scary at times, we usually seek to fill it up with things and people versus figure it out so that we can get rid of it.  So, there are many people walking through life doing the things that they were told were important, and they have jobs they hate and relationships that leave them unfulfilled, and a whole house of stuff that still leaves them feeling that deep void and lack of fulfillment.  But they just keep going, because that’s just what they’re “supposed to do”.  I have experienced the other side.  I can tell you that it is possible to love the work that you do.  I have had, and loved two different careers now.  It is more than possible to live a life you love.  It is possible to turn your passions into your life’s work.  Each of us is born with a unique set of gifts to share with the world.  We then travel on our individual journeys and collect moments that give us each a very unique skill set and perspective on life.  I am not the only one who believes that the purpose of this life is to wake up and also find your gifts and give them to the world.  If you have a dream, believe that it is possible, because you are able to imagine it.  If it wasn’t possible, it wouldn’t even be available in your mind’s eye.  The fact that you can dream it means that you can create it.  And you don’t need a degree or someone else to tell you so.  You have the power to dream up a life and live it.  But you have to trust and let go of the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back.  It takes work to shine a light on your beliefs and let go of the ones that no longer serve you.  It takes even more work to recognize when the beliefs that you’re holding aren’t even yours.  Maybe your parents have been telling you what to believe up to now.  Maybe society has been screaming so loudly in your ear that you haven’t been able to hear the whispers of your soul, your higher self.  I have learned that my mind is very loud compared to my intuition, so it helps when I quiet my mind with meditation or time in nature.

Right now, I am working to unravel and change my beliefs surrounding money and abundance.  I can see that I am holding onto beliefs that aren’t serving me based on what I am seeing show up in my life around finances.  Just when I think I have it figured out, I find a piece of the puzzle that I hadn’t been aware of.  I am sure that many of you can relate.  I come from a strong line of women who took care of their families largely on their own.  Both of my parents come from very large families where the household lived on one income for 6 and 8 kids.  Mostly, the Dad’s worked and the women were left to raise the kids.  They had what they needed probably most of the time, but nothing extra.  So beliefs like money is hard to come by and we don’t have what we need got passed down (I’m just speculating based on what my experience has been).  Growing up, my parents always wanted us to have all of the things that they felt they didn’t.  So we were given lots of stuff.  But with one income and three kids, there was a level of struggle that was palpable.  As an adult, I have uncovered beliefs in myself like money is hard to come by, you have to work really hard to make money, money doesn’t grow on trees, money and finances equal stress and uncertainty.  I have to really work to trust that I am always being taken care of and that I am always given what I need, especially when several unexpected expenses come up at the same time.  So I have to focus on today, the present.  I have what I need today.  I have food.  I have shelter.  I have the necessities and then some.  I have excess.  And so I work to acknowledge that every day.  My sister and I once talked about the fact that no matter how much money we make, we never feel like we have enough.  That’s part of our money programming.  Upon recognizing that we are both doing just fine, as a doctor and a nurse, I realized that what I was telling myself was simply not true.  And that’s what led me to dig deeper into my beliefs about money and other areas of my life.  The first step is seeing the belief, then you look to see how it’s affecting you and your life, and then you find a way to change the beliefs that aren’t working for you.  For me, I stopped and realized that I always had what I needed and then some.  I started being more grateful for what I had versus being upset about what I felt like I didn’t.

Sometimes, we spend so much time working to fill our void that we end up in a life that leaves us unhappy surrounded by a pile of things that just create more chaos around us.  Rather than living our own joy, a lot of the time, I think we chase dreams that aren’t our own and chase material things that we don’t even enjoy.  I was talking to a friend recently and we got on the subject of “stuff,” and how it feels like excess stuff clutters up our lives.  He told me about a documentary he had watched and enjoyed on Netflix called “Minimalism:  A Documentary About the Important Things” with Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus.  I watched it and really loved it.  They have a website and are also on Facebook.  They’re two guys who have paired down their stuff in a way that declutters their lives.  On their about page on their website HERE, they explain it better than I could: “Minimalists don’t focus on having less, less, less; rather, we focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment. More freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps us make that room.”

My next step is to declutter my living space.  I have been urged to do so for quite some time now, but I keep putting it off.  A lot of the stuff I need to go through is in my closet and behind other closed doors, so it’s been a bit of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  But that’s starting to not be the case anymore.  I know it’s there and I feel it cluttering my space and my mind more all the time.  And I keep being shown examples of people who have minimized their stuff with great outcomes, so I know that’s the Universe’s way of telling me to follow suit.  I believe that when we clear the things/patterns/beliefs/activities/people out of our lives that aren’t giving us joy, we make room for more meaningful and positive things, people, and situations to enter our lives.  Doesn’t that make sense?  We can’t make room for the things that we want in our lives if our lives are already full of a bunch of things that we don’t want.

I listened to a podcast by the Minimalists titled, Masks, this morning.  You can find it HERE.  They talk more about what I have addressed here.  It was really great listen.  They ended the podcast with this:  “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

If you enjoyed this post, please like and share it.

Listen to Michael Franti’s “Do It for the Love” HERE

 

 

 

Time Travel

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a good friend of mine and I told her that I wish that I could go back in time and relive my life, but with my current mentality.  I wanted to go back and have the experiences of the traveling and hiking for work with the level of gratitude and mindfulness that I currently experience.  I just had this idea that I would appreciate every experience, every hike I was able to do, every connection that I made with other people back then so much more with my current perspective on life.  In those days, I traveled, hiked, and LIVED in some of the most amazing and beautiful places that you can visit in the United States!  And I enjoyed it all at the time, but my life sort of splits at the time that I lost my health.  There’s the ‘before I lost my health’ time, and the ‘after I lost my health’ time.  Can you relate?  Did something change your life so dramatically that you also have a before (fill in the blank) time, and an after (fill in the blank) time?

Before I lost my health, I did what my body could do and didn’t even really think about it.  My body did whatever I wanted it to do.  If I needed to hike 17 miles in a day for work, I did it.  If I needed to carry a heavy backpack for 10 miles for work, I did it.  If I needed to lift a recliner into the back of a truck by myself, I did it.  After I lost my health, I experienced times when I couldn’t get off the couch because my chest pain was so bad.  I couldn’t walk to my mailbox that was maybe 30 feet from our house.  Actually come to think of it, maybe I am living in the after I lost my health AND after I got my health back time.  I am the same person, except now, I have all of the collective memories from all the time periods of my life.  And with the memories of the stark differences in what my body was able to do, I live with an immense gratitude so enormous that when I hike (or do something else that I thought I would never get to do again), I am usually brought to laughter and tears of joy.  And I am not exaggerating in the slightest.  I’ve asked friends of mine if the hikes they do ever bring them to tears, because it happens so often to me now.

As my friend and I discussed my time travel idea, we came to the conclusion that if I could go back with my current perspective that my life would likely be completely different now.  And really, I wouldn’t want that, because I would always choose to have my son.  But what I have realized since talking to my friend is that while we cannot currently (I never say never about anything) travel back in time physically as who we were then and experience things over again all “Back to the Future” style, we do have the ability to travel back to places that we once visited, experiencing it as our current selves.  And over the last few weeks, I have found that it’s pretty damn close.

I went to Southwest Utah last weekend on a whim.  I have been called (ie my heart/gut/ intuition/soul keep bringing it up over and over) to revisit the beautiful red rock of Zion National Park now for a long time, especially for the majority of this year.  Because I do not usually have a three-day weekend off all to myself, I was not about to waste it by sitting at home doing things that I could do on any other day.  I worked in SW Utah back in 2003, initially hiking through the desert looking for desert tortoises, and later using seining and electroshocking in rivers and streams to collect data on various fish species.  I even did some work in the Virgin River in Zion National Park.  I fell in love with the contrasting colors of the red rock against the bright blue sky and earthy green sage and cacti.  It’s art for the eyes unlike any other place I have ever seen.  When I realized that I had a 3-day weekend coming up, I began thinking of things that I could do during that time, specifically where I could go hiking.  I immediately thought of Zion National Park.  But as quickly as I thought of it, my mind started to work against me.  It’s an 8-hour drive and I haven’t done a long road trip like that by myself in a long time.  Can I stay awake, driving for that long?  How much is this going to cost me?  Can I afford it?  I can do it if I find a free place to stay, but not if I have to pay.  How much gas am I going to end up using and paying for?  Is 3 days really long enough to go all the way to Zion?!  I mean I’m basically going to drive there, hike, and drive back.  But, luckily, there are bigger forces at work than my mind that obviously wanted me to go to Zion.

I began to get messages in the form of Instagram and Facebook posts.  For instance, upon sitting on my couch and contemplating the trip while looking up places to camp and stay, I checked my Instagram to find two posts from two separate accounts featuring pictures taken in Zion National Park.  You can believe whatever you want, but I have seen enough in my own life to know without a doubt that there are no coincidences in this life.  If you feel like you’re getting messages, you are.  One of the pictures was taken from the top of Angel’s Landing, one of my favorite hikes in Zion that I planned on doing if I made the trip.  I also began to have other quotes, and articles pop up on my Facebook feed dealing with blocks that we sometimes create between ourselves and money, and also about the importance of following your intuition and doing the things that you are feeling urged to do.  So between message after message essentially yelling at me to go to Utah, and a sweet guy in Utah who runs a camping airbnb who hooked me up with coordinates for free camp sites on BLM land with a fall back option of his backyard if they were all full, I decided to go to Utah!  And man, am I happy that I did!!

Zion was always a magical place to me, but I think it was even more so during this visit!  I was able to experience the entire trip with the perspective of getting my health back after losing it, and during every shuttle, and hike, and conversation, I was saying to myself, I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be here right now!  I looked around with awe and a huge smile on my face the whole time.  I noticed some of the other hikers walking with almost grimaces on their faces, and I wanted to shake them and say “Can you believe that we are here in this magical place?!  This place is AMAZING!  Aren’t we so lucky that our bodies allow us to hike like this??!!”

I got there on Friday, set up my camp, and then went straight to the park to hop the shuttle and ended up hiking the Emerald Pools trail.  As I hiked, I smiled BIG!  It felt so right to be back there!  I looked around amazed as if I was seeing the Park for the first time!  On the shuttle to Emerald Pools, I struck up a conversation with a woman beside me, and asked her what hike she was going to do.  We started talking about where we were from and how long we were going to be there.  And we talked about hikes that we were going to do and that she had done.  She told me that she had hiked The Narrows the day before and that it was so beautiful and that I should do it if I had the time.  I had thought about it before my trip, but was not sure that I wanted to rent the gear for $40.  This conversation sealed the deal for me, and she told me where she rented the gear and what time they opened in the morning.  So again, flying by the seat of my pants, on Saturday, I hiked The Narrows, one of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park.  I have hiked a lot in my life, but The Narrows is now my absolute FAVORITE hike!  My soul was overwhelmed with joy to be hiking through a river surrounded by a red rock canyon!  If your body is able, and hiking in a place like that makes your soul happy too, you MUST get yourself there and experience it for yourself.  No picture, no matter how beautifully taken, can ever capture the feeling of being there yourself.  In my opinion, Zion National Park is a must-see and The Narrows hike is a must-do!

Me on top of Angel’s Landing in the Fall of 2003:

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Me on top of Angel’s Landing on October 15, 2017:

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Our souls/higher selves really do know what is best for us.  I see it play out in my life all the time as opportunities and people are placed on my path.  After my trip to Utah, I knew that I could in fact travel in time by revisiting places I have lived and loved in the past.  But, I had no idea that another hike I did yesterday in Sequoia National Park would show me that again.

I had wrongly assumed that I was working all weekend this weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, until I looked at my work schedule again last week.  It turns out that I had Sunday off.  So again, I began to think of hikes that I could do that day.  I have a friend that I have written about before who does all sorts of cool, epic hikes in this area, and he’s always happy to give me trail recommendations.  When he told me about the Lakes Trail in Sequoia National Park, it sounded perfect!  There are four lakes on the trail, all at various distances from the trail head, so you can decide on how short or long you want your hike to be, and the scenery at any of the lakes is gorgeous, so you win regardless of how far you go.  Before I left, he said to take the Watchtower trail vs. the Hump trail at one of the junctions on the way to the lakes, because of the scenery along the Watchtower trail.  Inspired by my friend, I set my alarm, and ended up being on the road to go hike by 4:45 am!!  I started the trail at 6:45 am, just before sunrise.  I was leaving my plan open-ended and decided that I would see how I felt at the various lakes before deciding on my ultimate destination.  The trail was so beautiful!  I had the trail all to myself until I hit the first lake, Heather Lake, when I started passing people who had camped at the lakes going in the opposite direction as me.  Aside from that, I felt like I had the entire trail to myself.  I stopped to take some pictures at the Watchtower.  The view up there is amazing!  All of the granite peaks and drop offs, the sun just making its way up into the sky.   Stunning!  I thought of how grateful I was to be able to hike that trail.  I felt so lit up from the inside.  I kept going.  At one point, there was a sign that said something like Emerald Lake 1 mile, Pear Lake 2 miles, and right then, I decided that I was feeling good enough to do the whole 12.4 mile round trip trail to Pear Lake.  There was no way that I was going to stop short just 1 mile from Pear Lake.  The hike was just what I needed!  It felt so good to get out there and do the whole 12.4 miles.  I went to bed feeling exhausted (in a good way) and full of love and gratitude for my life.  All of it.

When I checked Facebook this morning, I had memories to look back on.  Wow, did I!  As I scrolled down, I came to a group of photos that were part of an album labeled 6 to 11 months.  There was a picture in particular that I noticed where I was holding my son at an overlook on a hike that we did when he was 6 months old.  I wondered where the picture was taken, because I had no memory of the trail or its name.  So I clicked on the picture and under it was the caption “At the Watchtower.”  My son turned 6 months old on October 23, 2009.  We must have done that hike almost exactly 8 years ago.  And as I just wrote that sentence, I checked today’s date and got chills when I saw that today is October 23, 2017.  Wow.  There are seriously NO coincidences in this life!  I could have gone on any hike yesterday, but I was led to go on the same hike that I had gone on 8 years ago almost to the day!  Again, I got to relive my past with my current perspective and level of gratitude and mindfulness.  In 2009, the first picture was taken not even two weeks before I started having symptoms that ultimately led to my complete loss of health, so it falls just into the ‘before I lost my health’ time period.

My son and I at the Watchtower in October 2009:

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Me at the Watchtower on October 22, 2017:

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I know I have said it many times, but without the perspective of gratitude that I have gained from having my life split into two when I lost my health, I would not have hiked with as much joy as I did yesterday, last weekend, or during the last few years as I have been getting back on the trails.  I would not be as grateful for all that my body is able to do, because I would not know any other way.  The scenery and trails haven’t changed, but I have!  I am lucky, because life has given me the opportunity to go back and really soak in the experiences that I have had.  I have gotten a second chance at life, so I do not intend to waste it.  This perspective is why I do the things I do.  It’s why I live my life seeking the things that bring me the most joy.  It’s why I don’t wait around for other people to be available if I really want to do something.  I know that I woke up this morning and am alive TODAY.  I know that I am healthy enough to go on long hikes by myself TODAY.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed, friends.  What are you putting off for another day?  I would encourage you to do it!  Be here NOW.  I hope that you, too, are living this amazing and magical life to the fullest!

I sang Michael Franti’s song, “Gloria”, all weekend as I drove to and hiked around Zion NP.  I was really feeling the lyrics, because I am so glad to be alive!  I had no idea of the story behind the song until I just searched for a link to add here!  Watch an amazing video of Michael Franti talking about and singing his song, “Gloria” HERE

or the album version of “Gloria” HERE