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The Path of Aliveness
the third time the universe caught me
Do You Live for Love or Fear?
I hang the final picture in my office and step back to admire my work. The picture is the final piece of decoration in my new home in Porto. The home is a narrow tower of double-dense concrete, carved glass, and warm wood. It’s the perfect oasis of safety for my fiancé and I to live happily ever after. And my life, with all its hazards and uncertainties, will be largely solved.
Completing the decoration should feel satisfying, like slotting in the last puzzle piece. But instead it feels like I’ve hammered the last nail in a coffin in which I’ve buried myself alive. I turn my attention away from that mental image, not wanting to confront the tidal wave of pain it will entail to decimate this lovely and comfortable life. My pain is one thing, but hurting my fiancé—sweet and smart, handsome and loyal—is unthinkable.
"Everything would be perfect if I could just want this life." It’s a thought on loop in the haunted back corner of my mind, the corner another part of me had taped off with "I love my life" affirmations and gratitude lists. This other part of me works tirelessly to seal the deal on this life. When I’m not looking, she pays the deposit on the wedding venue.
Thich Nhat Hanh stressed the importance of having a shared vision for a partnership, to work together on the same dream. My fiancé and I share a vision for making Porto home and to continue being playful and loving. But as the months pass we drift into different dreams. I find myself needing... more.
I feel like I’m going insane: one part of me knows I have to honor the sense that something is wrong, that I feel more and more dead as I continue down this path. The other treasures this life of comfort and security and the love we share. I’m straddling two trucks careening down the highway, and I have to pick one of them—now.
A few weeks later, on a plane to Paris, I suddenly know what is keeping me stuck in this situation: I am afraid of life. If I could just surrender to that primal terror, I could follow my heart into the unknown.
"I accept the dangers of the world. I will not be afraid," I declare to myself.
I leap into the unknown.
No God No Boss No Husband No State!
I move to Lisbon to be near friends. A few months in, I struggle to summon the energy to do my job. I used to be able to easily devote my waking hours to work, what is wrong? I take my lack of energy as a sign, and quit to take a sabbatical and investigate.
A month later, Portugal rejects my visa application on account of my filing error. I’m usually careful with paperwork, what is going on?
It seems all doors are closing. I recall a piece of graffiti I had seen a few months back, which now strikes me as prophetic:
I had been feeling called to travel, so I figure I’ll follow that aliveness instead of reapplying for a new visa. Besides, I now have no job to reference on my visa application. I put my things in storage and book a one-way ticket to Thailand.
In Thailand I start this blog, which I come to call "Inner Pathing.” It reflects my sense of following a path inside of me, one that only I can sense, through the world. While I have dark moments where I feel I’m drowning in a sea of optionality, I know which way to go by following a sense of aliveness. I trust that if I follow that, I will find where I need to be.
This trust is backed by two previous times I hit reset on my life, both of which were met by good fortune. The first time, I was in the Bay Area when struck by an overwhelming desire to live in nature. I didn't know how I would support myself there, but I moved. There I found an amazing job that taught me so much and was a formative step in my career.
My second life reset was four years later. I had seemingly everything—a prestigious position, a dream apartment, a sweet boyfriend—when I started daydreaming of digital nomading in Thailand. I was terrified of leaving but I couldn't suppress the calling. I followed what felt alive through several countries, went out on limb after limb, and discovered my next dream job in Berlin.
So as I book a one-way ticket to Thailand for the second time, I trust that something amazing will happen again, that if I jump off the cliff the grace of the universe will catch me.
But fast forward 11 months and I start to worry. I’ve visited Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Greece, Albania, and now Turkey. I start to wonder if I’m doing anything but accruing a sinful carbon footprint. I’m tiring of nomadism, but really I’m tiring of aimlessness. I try to commit to moving back to Berlin—the last place my life really worked—but that decision stops feeling right after only a few weeks.
I believe that when I find my next thing, it will feel right. The energy will be there, that I will want it more than anything.
But... where is that thing? Have I taken a wrong turn? Have I not followed the energy? Will the universe catch me again so I can begin the next part of my life, or am I another nomad lost in an abyss of optionality? Does this poem have a rhyme, or not?
The Path to the Rose Garden
There are only a few rules of thumb for my travels: I try to “follow the energy”, aka the sense of aliveness, and I try to stay in the same geographic area to minimize air travel. I’ll be in Albania in October and Berlin in December, but November is blank. So when I learn that Jesse will be in Turkey in November, I ask to tag along.
I met Jesse at Jesscamp, where I admired him for how he seems to need nothing but give everything. At Jesscamp he slept outside under a tarp of his own design while spending his days ensuring Huel-habituated internet kids got fed. Jesse struck me as a rugged element of nature, more granite or wildcat guardian than human.
One evening my ear caught him playing a song to a small group. I pulled up a chair to listen. He sang:
Did you want it to go on forever?
When you know every road has an end
You went where the wind chose to blow you
And the wind blew you far from a friend
The lyrics pierced my still-grieving heart, and waves of sorrow poured out of me.
So now our paths cross again in Berlin, when we both crash at Simon's place.
We’re hanging out at the park one day talking about napping when he boasts: "I can teach anyone how to fall asleep." He says he taught this trick of nervous system mastery to his ex-wife by falling asleep laying next to her.
On my final night, when we’re sleeping on Simon's living room floor, I call him on this skill: "Want to snuggle?"
"Um, would that be good for you?" Classic Jesse.
"Uh, I think so, yeah."
We awkwardly lay down into spoons, and when our bodies touch I feel an explosion of energy. I close my eyes and see his energy as a great white bird encompassing me. The energy keeps shifting and changing. It’s far too interesting for me to fall asleep, but I do pick up a sense of how he holds his energy in open calmness.
Standing in line at the airport the next morning, I shyly tread into a "was the snuggling romantic or not?" conversation. Perhaps, we decide.
So I’m not sure what to expect of our time in Turkey. I definitely don’t expect that 36 hours into being together in Istanbul I’ll admit I’m falling for him. The feeling is mutual, and feelings turn into dreams for a beautiful life together. My path of aliveness becomes a shared path.
In the rose garden of the Rumi museum, we perform a handfasting, a Pagan ceremony to commit to being together for a year and a day. It’s a mini-marriage, honoring our connection and giving us a container for the start of our relationship. More on the ceremony at Jesse’s blog »
While I still have much to figure out, my inner pathfinder feels it’s found what I’ve been searching for. I feel that I’ve at last crested a mountain and can see a beautiful path to the next stretch.
The Path of Aliveness
So that's my story of following the path of aliveness for now.
I hope that continuing on this path will mean being an amazing partner to Jesse and getting to spend our lives supporting each other in our dreams. But I can't control life. I can only do my best at each step, and to honor the life flowing through me. I would rather live my full truth than box myself into what might look like success to others.
The path of aliveness has often been tumultuous for me, but it’s not always so dramatic. Sometimes it's not the path to break up, to move, to quit—sometimes the transformation is an internal shift to meet outer circumstances. It might look like re-attuning to yourself, returning to forgotten dreams, making art, giving up addictions, starting a spiritual or physical practice, or speaking your full truth in relationships.
Whatever the case, the path of aliveness is something only you can sense; it's an inner path.
What does your heart whisper to you when you're not afraid, when you're not being practical, when you're attuned to the precious miracle that is being alive? 💗
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