I’ve been on the road for over 6 months now. I stopped counting mileage about a month ago, but I’m guessing I’ve logged well over 9000 miles at this point. I could rattle off a bunch of other stats to paint a dramatic yet stale picture of this experience (I probably still will at some point, because stats can be fun at times), but in this moment that all feels very insignificant. I realize that my blog updates have become more superficial these last few months, focusing more on the where’s and what’s, not so much on process and inner experience. I believe this trend was actually in line with my internal landscape: Not really processing a whole lot. Just enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and connections. I was giving myself some time to just be journeying for its own sake, without a need for a deeper intention behind it. At this point however, the truth is I’m confused. I’m not entirely sure what it is I’m doing out here anymore, and trying to figure out what to do about that. Two months ago I was presented with an opportunity to spend my Winter in Crested Butte CO working in a busy bodywork practice, playing in the snow and enjoying a stable community for a few months. I wasn’t ready to stop riding then so I have let the option simmer in my mind ever since. It is a complex choice on many levels for many reasons, and stirs up the greater confusion I’m feeling about this journey as a whole and what is guiding my decisions. I’ve chosen to share the most vulnerable and raw aspects of my current experience here, as I feel it’s important to paint a holistic picture of what’s really happening inside once the dust settles. Some of this gets pretty deep and personal, so if you’d prefer pretty pictures and crazy stories, I’d skip this post.
Survival is not enough… UNLESS…
I just watched a documentary recently, called Happy. Many people of various backgrounds are interviewed as well as experts studying the basic human quest for happiness. In one part, a psychologist speaks about how little happiness increases with wealth, after our basic needs for survival are met. I’ve been thinking about this, how the challenge of just surviving in the wilderness (carrying enough food, water and supplies, avoiding injury, etc) takes up sufficient bandwidth that I often don’t get caught up in my typical existential challenges of chronic self-criticism and dissatisfaction. How obscenely lucky I am to choose to grapple with survival when so few in this world have that choice, how guilty that can make me feel.
I was fortunate to be born into a family that provided for me. My parents tried hard to give me what they hoped would make me happy, both supporting my talents and trying to help me overcome my deficits. My parents are both extremely accomplished academics and physicians. My Father is known for developing a field of medicine. My Mother is a world authority in clinical genetics, and just happens to play violin in an orchestra. They are not rich doctors as one might imagine given this description, their success being measured more in accolades than dollar signs. But they aren’t starving either. They made enough money that my Sister and I did not need to work in order to help the family get by. I attended Summer camp between grades. We went on family vacations to amazing and exotic places. I never worried about having enough food to eat or finding a safe place to sleep. I was, quite literally, sheltered.
Without the need to address those basic needs for surviving while growing up, I was allowed the time and space to explore my wants. I had the freedom to seek what made me happy. In fact, I was told that I should be happy, fulfilled, inspired, both in my career and in my life as a whole. I have felt shame about my background for a long time. On the one hand feeling like I should have had it harder, uneasy with the comforts I was given. On the other hand, I should have done more with the opportunities given to me, seeing so many people appearing to achieve much more with much less support. I thought life would be so much easier if just being me felt like enough, if I could just be okay, as I was. I was also told that my potential was limitless. That I was smarter and more capable than everyone else, and could do anything I set my mind to. But I rarely ‘reached’ that potential during childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and perhaps still in this moment. I didn’t understand how I could be as capable as they said I was and yet always end up being about average. But the voice that solidified itself in my mind at some point during childhood told me that I could be the best if I really tried. Anything short of the best was just not good enough, so I often felt like I was a failure for not trying hard enough. Who and how I was never felt acceptable. In attempting to explain my underperformance to my parents, a learning specialist shared with my parents, “He can do anything he puts his mind to, all he has to do is engage.”
Even now as that series of letters crosses my vision and is translated to sound within my cerebrum, that haunting word chills my spine and tightens my solar plexus, a voice inside screaming out to the heavens, “But HOW?!??! And why is it always so hard for me to do that?”
Growing up, most things that my family were engaged by didn’t pique my passions. Reading was not fun for me like it was for them. In fact it’s always been really hard for me to concentrate enough to finish each sentence. I just wanted to go outside and move. But not to compete or win. Just because it felt good. Mostly however I hid from those shameful feelings of failure in the recesses of a television screen for hours and hours every day until I was too tired to feel the pain anymore. But with each waking day, they returned, magnified by the awareness that I was wasting my time, my precious life. What would make this feeling go away? I tried to keep up with my Sister’s success for a while, but always seemed to fall short her ever growing footsteps. Each of her accolades casted a longer shadow upon me than the last, adding another weight to my burdened shoulders. At some point pretty early on, I gave up. I believe now that the only way my subconscious mind could reconcile my supposedly limitless potential with my failure to achieve was not to try in the first place. Then at least I could still hold onto my potential for success. It is quite a cross to bear, living under the shroud of coulds and shoulds. It came with a voice that continuously reminded me how I was wasting my gifts, my talent, my intellect, my life. Whatever I did choose to do never felt like enough. As soon as I’d accomplish one goal, another higher one would appear and show me that I’d yet again fallen short of perfection. In high school I unsuccessfully tried to avoid the pain for a while hoping something would make it shift. Punching walls until my fists bled? NO. Running away? Pot? Acid? Drinking? Smoking? NO. NO. NO. Cutting myself or inanimate objects? Nope. The pain remained, regardless of my attempts. So if my life was to include so much pain, then why bother? It got to the point of considering ending things at various times, but not to the point of taking action. Primarily because I just couldn’t do that to my family. But hopelessness is a cancerous feeling, it devours and poisons all the healthy feelings and ideas so quickly, it’s hard to see it even happen until you’re consumed by it.
I eventually found some activities I enjoyed on my own that weren’t about impressing my family, and were different enough to free me from comparisons to them: Music and Biking. I studied Afro-Cuban percussion in college and moved to the Bay Area to continue my studies under a master drummer. I started road biking and complete some long-distance fundraiser rides. I bartended “for money” so I could continue to have the free time to play music and ride bikes without the pressure of combining business with pleasure. Over time however, I started to burn out on my life in San Francisco. I wasn’t excited about playing drums anymore, but was too afraid to let go of my identity as a percussionist as that would surely send me back to my dark, lost days of high school. I hid behind the thin veil of incomparability for as long as I could, but eventually still found that no matter where I ran, where I hid, I was still never good enough for my inner critic. My parents weren’t telling me this anymore, and at this point I question how much they ever actually did. No longer could I blame them for what was now a part of me. I’ve learned by now that my solution to this puzzle is not in finding the perfect career/activity/etc, but about finding a way to live in allignment with my deepest self, whatever that is. It can be hard for me recognize how it feels to live in this alignment with all the amazing people around me doing such amazing and impressive things. I’ve gotten so caught up in whether I’m doing enough, never taking a pause for long enough to feel what just being feels like.
Truth on Two Wheels:
Truth. Such a complicated word to accurately define. One truth can be found within the paradigm of a bicycle. Technically, a wheel “in true” is perfectly round and spins on its axis of rotation without wobbling or wavering from it. In order for a wheel to be in true, there must be perfect balance in tension among all the spokes. Half of them pull the rim to the left, half of them pull right. A wheel that is in true is in alignment, in its exact shape which, of course, is perfectly round. If a wheel is initially built with the spokes tensioned out of balance, it is quite difficult to ever get it trued without disassembling it and starting from scratch. Pretty obvious where I’m going here, no? So, is it actually possible to true a life that is fundamentally out of balance by tinkering, or is it better to disassemble and build balance from the ground up? If such a thing is possible, I think that’s what I’m really trying to do out here. Unfortunately I think I’m still in the disassembly phase.
So what exactly is fundamental truth when in comes to self-discovery? I believe it’s something we find at the core of our being, something that stands the test of time and space. A wheel’s truth is in being round. A human’s truth is aligning with his/her own unique perfect shape. But what is that shape for you? For me? How do we know if we’re getting closer to it or ever further away? Perhaps for us it’s not a state that we find and maintain, but a moment in time that we miraculously discover and then spend the rest of our lives trying to regain, even if only for another moment. Like balancing a pencil on its point. Some people seem to know their shape at a very early age, and seem to be on a direct track toward their truth. I resent ‘them’ because I envy them, at least my oversimplified concept of them. I see others tell themselves they are in truth because they have met a certain set of goals that they at some point accepted as the road to happiness (career, income, marriage, children, etc), somehow ignoring the persistent wobble of a soul still in turmoil. I pity them, telling myself that my journey is the more virtuous one. Again, a total oversimplification to make myself feel better, which it doesn’t do anyway. But as surely as a wheel rolls best when in true, so too do our lives progress. I’m finding that my build is a sensitive one. I fall out of balance very easily, and unfortunately don’t realize it’s happened until things begin falling apart.
My last few years in Seattle were spent in the most balance I’ve ever achieved. I was self-employed, working 4 days a week, helping people feel more comfortable in their bodies. I had a beautiful long bike commute along Seattle’s waterways to my office. I had a sweet and loving dog that I love immeasurably. I lived on the opposite end of a huge city park from my best male friend, Ben, who met me every morning to walk our dogs through the park and talk about our lives. In the last year, I lived with a gorgeous, kind, intelligent woman who loved me unconditionally. We both had 3 day weekends every week, and managed to get out into nature all the time. I was connected to various deep communities through bodywork, burner culture, and music. And yet, I wasn’t happy. Still after all these years of self-work, therapy and meditation, I wasn’t fulfilled. I couldn’t find my passion for Stephanie, for my work, for this life I’d worked so hard to create. I still feel so much guilt for how hurtful this was to Stephanie. She opened her heart to me and I wasn’t able to open mine back fully. It couldn’t have felt safe to remain open to me after a while. So she naturally withdrew. Somehow I didn’t see how much of that was my doing until after we parted ways. My soul was still not at peace with the demons inside, which prevented any of that beautiful, simple life from just being okay. Sigh. It’s really hard to acknowledge that after all these years, that same problem still keeping me from a peaceful life.
I’m sitting on a couch, at a good friend’s house, in Phoenix.
An indefinite journey like this brings with it many extremes of experience. On the one hand I am blessed to feel the freedom to ride as long or short distances as inspiration leads. I can make my days vigorous or gentle, as I wish. I’m not racing or competing, other than exploring my own limits. But some days those limits are internal, and require me to slow down on the bike in order to feel them. There is a particular peace within the experience of silently rolling through the woods along a setting sun, knowing I have everything I need to survive and that I can stop anywhere in search of a perfect campsite. I have seen rapturous beauty in mountains, rivers, valleys and canyons. I’ve met countless beautiful people who have opened their homes and hearts to me. I’ve ridden hideously fun trails all across North America.
I’m tired of eating the same shitty camp food night after night. I’ve consumed more candy bars in 6 months than I had in entire life thus far. My teeth hurt and I’m on such a tight budget I’m afraid what will happen when I need dental work at some point. I smell pretty horrible most of the time, which I feel brings a certain challenge to meeting new people. I spend upwards of 2 hours a day setting up and breaking down my campsite and kitchen, eventually retiring into my 28 square foot abode. Rest and repeat. I don’t get to be lazy about not “making my bed” on certain days. Sometimes I wish I could stop in beautiful places to take them in for an extra day or two, but may not enough food or water to do so and must therefore push on to the next town. Loneliness has chased me down the road at different points. It was deafening at times over the Summer, but I was able to refill some of the wells of community by visiting some loved ones at Burning Man in September. But the loneliness has caught up with me in recent weeks. I miss seeing and touching my friends and family. I miss being touched, something phone calls and Skype cannot help with. I romanticize the blessed moments of sitting on a couch with my dog and good friends, just talking and cuddling. I miss being around people who know me well enough to call me out on my bullshit. I hold on to some assemblance of community through Facebook and email, unsatisfying as they are. I’ve found myself watching movies on my laptop recently. Both are crutches I’m using to avoid the very solitude I embarked on this journey to experience. Coping mechanisms for a hard situation, but one that I have to take responsibility for choosing.
Feeling loss as connections to my life in Seattle fade into oblivion. I’m on the precipice of crossing an international border, riding further away from my family, my community, my old life as I knew it. With every passing week the concept of my career as a bodyworker feels more distant, having been 8 months now since I last gave a full session. I’m afraid if I go too much further I’ll never be able to re-engage with that work. In fact, I fear that about returning to society as a whole.
But I don’t feel done with my quest. There is still more to let go of, something deeper to learn. Perhaps it’s time to take a break from all of the crutches for a while now if I continue South. I have a bike and a body that are in good working order and enough dollars in savings to continue. But should I fill the wells of community for a few months in Colorado before pressing on into my darkness? Will that set me back…? I don’t know for sure. I do know that I have to choose something. Perhaps the fact that this decision is so hard means that it doesn’t matter which path I choose. That would be nice. All I know is that another big change is coming, and the challenge of this decision illuminates it’s significance.