I originally wrote this prose for an online travel/camper-life collective called Goldpan but the publication has been put on hold by the owner so I figured I would share it here instead!
I haven’t always understood the value of being still. In fact, I used to believe, like most people do, that by constantly moving and doing that I was making progress somehow. During and after college, I had a demanding job that required me to work long hours and weeks at a time without a full day off. Time spent with my partner was limited to late nights after work or in passing between shifts. I went on for years like that without noticing…without knowing that I could’ve been happier in so many ways. I now endearingly refer to those as my ‘collecting years’. I was collecting paychecks, collecting debt, collecting clothes to fill my closet, collecting stuff I would later call junk. I was collecting trivial friendships. But, I was successfully ticking all the boxes on the checklist of life, surely well on my way to success and happiness in anyone’s perspective. I had a well paying job I liked, a nice car, a nice house. I had lots of nice things to put in my nice house. Nice clothes. A nice vacation once a year, if I was lucky. I could eat at nice restaurants and order fancy drinks. Because I had all these nice things, it seemed not to matter that I wasn’t creatively stimulated or that the friendships I had weren’t meaningful or lasting. I was climbing a ladder to somewhere and I had to keep doing what I was doing in order to get there. That’s how it seemed.
I can’t recall what changed or what life event inspired a new perspective, maybe it was marriage or finally, after 5 years, finding balance in owning a business, maybe it was the birth of 1-8 of my nieces and nephews or maybe it was the constant stream of content and information flooding my brain at all hours of the day because of social media. I really don’t know. But I changed. I started going out to go in, like that John Muir quote. “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
I started finding peace in just intentionally sitting and watching the light bounce off the surfaces of the room. Some of my best laid plans were made out of ideas born on trail hikes and bike rides. I’d have these long, script-worthy conversations with my husband about life and meaning, always while we were trekking up a mountain or making a long drive on some back road. I started to really acknowledge the feeling I got from those breakthroughs and where I had to go to find it. Stillness. Stillness in motion not so much but stillness in whatever is happening in that moment.
My best moments aren’t the ones where I am rushing between errands, multitasking text messages and instagram posts or half-listening to conversations while making to do lists. But those moments still happen sometimes. The difference is that used to be the whole of who I was and how I’d spend my days.
Now, I have a less is more mentality. A very stark contrast to my ‘collecting years’’. Now I simplify, I focus, I’m intentional. I find myself…I hear myself in the stillness. When I shut out the world and intentionally tune in to something present, whether it’s the crunching sound my hikers make against the gravel and dirt or the steady buzz my bike tires make against the pavement, interrupted only by my heavy breath, it’s as if I can see more clearly and feel more keenly. Even something as simple as cranking up the radio and belting out the lyrics to my favorite song, I’m less overwhelmed by the traffic and less annoyed by all the distracted drivers surrounding me. When I put down my phone for conversations, when I put down my camera to take in a vista I’ve worked hard to witness, I can be more of the person I know myself to be. And being present for even the most trivial of moments in my day gives everything meaning that I didn’t give myself the chance to notice before. Even shutting out the constant stream of visual content and information sometimes opens the door to a creative breakthrough. I try looking inward or at nature for inspiration rather than replicating, though it’s hard.
The very act of sitting down to write this has opened up a room of questions. By being intentionally singular and checking in to the stillness of our minds (and our screens), can we find ways to truly experience our lives, no matter who we are, rather than speeding through, on a mission to a place we don’t even know exists? Are we free to shape our own version of success and still be accepted or seen in a flattering light or will those of us who live unconventionally be separated imminently from normal society? If we live by the standards set for us by the masses and don’t consider them intentionally for ourselves and our own unique life, are we really ourselves or are we a version of someone else? Are we blindly following in the path of those before or around us?