Financial & Emotional Independence

For those of you who have been following along, you know it’s been a rough month. Living in your car is anything but glamorous. The psychological drain of everyday activities-brushing your teeth, getting ready for work, staying hydrated and going to the bathroom are difficult enough to make even the most patient of people irate. This doesn’t even take into account all the mental anguish, planning and work that goes into avoiding other less glamorous sides of my lifestyle- the constant noise of street sweepers, the fear of waking up to someone staring at me, the perils of trying to stay cool when temperatures haven’t dipped below 70 degrees in weeks and trying to maintain a healthy diet.

Well I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that Summer is kicking my butt and it’s just began less than a month ago. Plus, I still have another 6 months to go, which will put me well into Winter.  The good news is a big part of me did some surrendering the past two weeks.  I resolved (while reading my AWESOME book on Healing with Qi) that I am wasting too much mental energy focusing on the downsides of voluntary homelessness when I should be life hacking the shit out every discomfort I encounter. The alternative is to stop complaining and drop some money on an Air bnb, or exercise some psychological flexibility and stay with some friends or couch surf. But I am stubborn and I crave independence above all else- I also find most people and social interactions particularly draining.  The idea of staying with a friend would be ideal for cooling off and cooking food, but I mostly want to lay down in a cool room with cool water and retreat to my inner world with no distraction.

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My Awesome book on Qigong!

So realizing that 7 months is a good time to assess how far I’ve come, what’s working, what’s not and figure out what absolutely has to change in order for me to make it through the Summer without spending a ridiculous amount of money, I have decided to life hack the shit out of my life, AGAIN. So this includes coming up with solutions to some of the things that are pushing me over the edge. It’s the only way I am going to make it!

Staying hydrated is one of the most difficult tasks.  Keeping hydrated means I am either drinking warm water leftover in my car, buying water from a store, getting water for free from drive throughs, filling up water in public places (malls, libraries, the gym, movie theatre)  and of course, my favorite- constantly using the bathroom.  So I have resolved to get in most of my water intake at work between the hours of 9:00 and 4:00. I usually stop drinking then or else I will have to pee all through the evening, and things close. Plus the incontinence I experience from SSRI withdrawal is a (fill in the blank with an appropriate expletive).

Over the weekends I usually try to spend 3 hours of the day posted up somewhere I have access to free water and a bathroom so I can get in all my water early and a cup of free water from a takeout place for the hot nights.  This means I frequent various libraries across the DMV and have become very familiar with all the staff and shift changes at many a Planet Fitness. I’ve also seen pretty much every movie on the big screen, something that will probably be a regular thing- which brings me to my next point- staying cool.

Oh my goodness it is SO freaking hot. I feel like those people who get stuck on a deserted island and have to sit in their own sweat. Sometimes I am so wrestles, listless and so very uncomfortable that I curse out loud before deciding I need to leave my car and cool off in the middle of reading or blogging or napping. Luckily I have discovered some life hacks that have made things a bit easier.  To make it through the hot night, I always keep water by my side. I also crank the A/C as high as it will go for the entire car drive out to my sleep spot, until the inside car temperature has cooled 12-15 degrees.  I aim the vents towards the ceiling to cool off the carpet and plastic that has absorbed heat directly from the Sun and also the radiant heat from the metal and plastic fixtures, instead of on me directly. Apparently hot air does rise and the greenhouse gas effect is real.

This means when I wake up a couple times a night feeling hot, I can turn on the A/C for 3 minutes, drink some water and buy 30 minutes or so of comfort- just enough time to fall asleep. This has worked supremely. I also realized that my sub zero sleeping bag keeps nice and cool if I blow air on it. Last night, I also slept with wet hair which cooled me off considerably. Keeping my car cool also means parking under trees and under covered parking structures during the day so that it takes less gas and time to cool. Overall, the last three nights have been the best in a few weeks. The low will be 73 degree for several nights straight this week- we’ll see if all this life hacking holds up!

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Always thinking, always scheming…

All that A/C and bathroom breaks can run up my gas usage, which sucks cause Climate Change is real, and gas is SO expensive. To reduce my fuel usage, I reserve A/C only for sleeping at night , in the morning when commuting and if I have guests in my car. I also plan my bathroom trips so that I am not driving back and forth to hit up different bathrooms, but instead hit up all my bathroom stops on the way towards a final destination to reduce mileage.  I also decided to take the hit and spend 100 a month on metro parking which will save me about 50 dollars on gas from driving to Anacostia to park my car and metro in from work. It will also save me about 40 minutes of drive time, keep my car cooler when I get off work and significantly reduce my carbon emissions. By finding one place on the weekends I can post up for a few hours, I can also reduce my gas usage. If I don’t want to go inside the building, I can chill out under the shade of a tree or find a park system with a mature canopy. In these areas the average air temperature can be nearly 10 degrees lower than downtown D.C. I’m sure it also helps that my internal indicator for hot, is much much higher than most people now.

When I am not hydrating or trying to find a bathroom, I am either eating, or trying to stave off boredom. This usually means I am looking for interesting places to get fresh food for under $8, or trying to find ways to avoid the desire to check into a hotel and sleep a whole day away by scheduling reading, exercise, urban excursions and self-care a couple of days in advance.  I’ve found a whole host of mom and pop shops where I can get fresh seafood and healthy sides like sweet potatoes, kale, green beans and squash. Having realized that convenience costs, I have been doing a better job getting nuts and dried fruit when I am hungry, but not in the mood for a meal. I’ve also been practicing intermittent fasting which has boosted my ability to focus tremendously and changed my food habits (I  only eat from 1pm-9pm, more on this later). I’ve also recently started exploring more to find more sleep spots, good public restrooms, better eats and enjoy some good music and unscheduled downtime. This has been working great. At this rate I will finish a book a month and be working out every other day for the next 6 months, with plenty of places to pee and grab not shitty food without thinking too hard.

And of course as a hard core Type A, INTJ, I have a more comfortable backup plan- getting a second job to speed things up a bit and set aside a $500 monthly budget for reserving a room if it gets too hot or cold. The heat is killing me, and I know it will pass. Keeping up with all the financial hiccups, car repairs, replacing worn clothing, special occasions means I have become even more against the idea of spending 60 dollars to spend the night at an Airbnb or drop 100 dollars and stay in a hotel. I know its an option, but I figure the longer I hold out, the less horrible I will feel when I drop $500 to make it through the hottest parts of the summer and the coolest parts of the winter by staying in an extended stay for a week when the night temperatures reach 75 degrees, or dip below 10.

The last piece of the anguish I’ve felt for the last few months has been my lack of excitement and disdain for Washington, D.C. In general. I don’t like it here- everything is too expensive, too crowded and too dirty. Everyone is in too much of a rush and too focused on the superficial or satisfied with the infamous DC brunch, happy hour and conference scene to grow casual interactions into intimate friendships. That or they have kids, are permanently booed up or having financial issues.

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But I LOVE my job and I have history here and I believe I can thrive anywhere. So I have been making an effort to meet more people, even though I find meetups, dating sites and happy hours a bad use of funds that could otherwise be spent at an Airbnb or hotel. Plus I am a super picky person and most of the time, just want to spend some self-directed time doing some of my favorite activities (reading, reflecting or researching). Except I don’t have my own room, so my quiet hermit time is either spent glistening under trees in a park or somewhere in the commons- a library, book store or restaurant with my headphones in, tuning out the world and into cosmology, eastern philosophy, alternative economic systems and world travel.

And then there is the whole psychological side of living in your car. Things can get emotional late at night when you’ve spent days without talking to anyone. You sometimes feel isolated from society, you find that things are unfair and that the world expects you to have an address and stay put.  You wish you had more people you enjoyed being around, you wish you were closer to your family or wish your good friends lived near you. You wish you didn’t have OCD so that little things like staying with friends or in certain places isn’t also mildly anxiety producing- enough that you would rather be moderately uncomfortable sleeping in your car. You wish it were easier to distract yourself from past shortcomings and failures- that they didn’t wake you up at night and force you to sit in their heaviness, hot and sticky from the heat.

I glow when I surrender

I glow when I surrender.

But at the end of the day, well the past few days rather, I realized that because I AM actively exercising 100% autonomy over my life, I must own ALL the emotions and feelings and sensations that this experience of voluntary homeless and isolation has brought out. It means that either I am willing to experience them in pursuit of my values, or I must re-asses my values or try a different plan. But there is no other plan.  Living off the grid and paying off my student loan debt is the master plan, my end game. So I practice hours of self reflection and compassionate witnessing when emotions or uncomfortable situations arise. When I previously would have called a friend or distracted myself with technology or by sleeping, I instead sit with all my emotions and thoughts, sensations and failures and doubts. Even when I think about where I was a year ago and quiet pain and tears choke me in the night, I stand strong and resolved in witnessing myself as nonjudgementally as possible.  I wait patiently, practice my qi breathing and relaxation techniques until the emotion or thought looses hold and I am able to re-focus.It’s amazing- I feel like every paycheck I make living in my car, represents a vast amount of listlessness, weakness, limiting beliefs and anxiety leaving me forever. So even when I am frustrated and hot, or anxious and uncomfortable, I am getting freer and freer by the week.

It’s amazing how much energy goes into keeping calm in social situations, managing your own emotions and keeping your body healthy. The last month of my lifestyle I have decided to accept the fact that I have so much time on my hands and that many things about life, and my lifestyle are uncomfortable. But by being curious about these items and exercising self reflection and swift action, I know that I am a better and truer version of myself.  Besides, six months is nothing compared to the years of emotional work I am doing now so that I can live authentically and invest all my emotional energy and material resources into my dreams.

This is my new take on minimalism-not just giving up things and living on less, but giving up attachment to emotions and the illusion of control. Being able to process, endure and overcome uncomfortable feelings and sensations in pursuit of the living my dreams.  For me, my quest for truth, freedom and wisdom lays at the intersection of minimalism and emotional and financial independence. I can honestly say it has made for a life worth living.

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Writing to you from a library parking lot, under the shade of some trees.

A Few of My un Favorite Things…

I’m tired. It’s been 6 months of car camping and I am utterly exhausted. And it’s not so much from physical exhaustion as it is from mental labor. I never thought about the psychological effects always planning my meals, bathroom breaks, shower, laundry, etc. would have on me. I spend most of my time operating in tunnel vision to maximize efficiency. As a result, my mind is never at rest.  I am constantly strategizing, searching for a way to save time or money or trying to mitigate the loss of either.

For example, when I do laundry it is essential I re-organize my belongings in separate bags, less I want to lose 20 minutes searching for a matching pear of work socks and the correct color undershirt before work.  So I plan outfits the night before and try to place them in my daypack bag. I wear undershirts that allow me to change without exposing the ladies in public. Those undershirts will then transition to night wear when I sleep in my car, and will serve as a shirt when I work out the next morning and use the bathroom at my gym. See how I just saved myself from three awkward clothe changings in a cramped Hyundai Elantra? And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even talked about what I do to keep my technology charged, what it takes to pack everything I sleep with, along with everything I own in my trunk every morning  so it doesn’t look like I am living in my car, where I pee when I’m managing Zoloft withdrawal induced incontinence late at night or how I kill time when I am exhausted but it’s 10 pm and still 80 degrees at night, too hot to sleep in my car. |

These are a few of my UNfavorite things.

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This should be two thumbs way down, but I needed a hand to take the selfie

It’s a lot for anyone and it takes lots of big adjustments. Even with the budget I realize I go through certain things a lot faster or need a lot more than I anticipate. I feel like I am always buying bottles of water, overusing my data charges, charging my laptop, filling up my car tank or trying to figure out when I should buy new clothes or shoes or stretch things out a little further so I can continue paying 2,000 a month on my student loans. I totally forgot to calculate interest charges on my loans which will add another month onto my journey no matter what. There’s also the extra parking tickets, damages from general wear and tear and toll fees and notices for days. There’s also so many other things that have drastically reduced my quality of life. I don’t eat nearly as much fresh fruit and vegetables as I would like and I’m sure sleeping in semi-comfortable positions is going to wear on my body. I also miss just lounging around, cold water, buying in bulk instead of day to day, and having my own place to entertain company, cook and properly waste time. All of this has added up emotionally and financially. I’m 2 months behind on my journey and I crave simple comforts so much that I have not been adhering to my budget or personal exemptions and rules (more on this later).

And all this on top of everything else. For those of you who have been following along since the Mexico Prelude, you know that this has been and extraordinary year for me. Apart from overcoming unimaginable suffering from a bout of obsessive compulsive disorder triggered by prolonged ssri discontinuation syndrome, I am officially 7 weeks Zoloft free.  Despite my slow self-taper over the last 6 months I don’t think I have escaped scratch free from the throws of my brain attempting to re-calibrate serotonin levels with the aid of medicine. The past few days I have been having radiating pains in my right arm and last night I experienced  joint pain in my fingers. Today I was MUCH more emotional and agitated than usual. To seal the deal I went from hot, to cold, to hot for 3 hours straight. These are all classic ssri withdrawal symptoms. Thank God they aren’t anywhere near what I experienced from cold turkeying before. Nonetheless, its daunting knowing that you could experience a huge mood swing without any preceding event and that the very thing you prize the most, your intelligence and insight, can turn on you in any moment.

I didn’t get a chance to write about it on account of me having limited access to a power source and spending critical time and power blogging about Mexico and applying for second job so I could meet my original timeline, but I reached out to a psychiatrist in attempts of having someone monitor my taper. And so following the recommendation of my AMAZING behavioral therapist, I made an apt with a Doctor who specializes in anxiety disorders and women’s health- the perfect combo to objectively evaluate the depression, anxiety and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder(PMDD) while I tried, yet again, to wean myself off the Zoloft.

We spoke over the phone and I explained to her my history of long term ssri use from the age of 14, to the taper and misdiagnosis of Bi-polar II disorder and discovery of PMDD. I explained my stance on not treating the imbalance, but getting to root of the problem by changing my brain anatomy with behavioral therapy, which has become my entire life with me living in my car and all. She agreed to see me and for a minute I thought my prayers would be answered.

I was wrong. After 45 minutes of re-explaining my history, she agreed that the dose of Zoloft I had been on for 3 months was too low to treat either the depression or OCD  and that the behavioural therapy was making the difference.  But she still recommended I stay on medicine my entire life to reduce the risk of a relapse. I asked her if it was kind of like when you get an infection in your tooth and they pull it immediately instead of treating it with antibiotics, keeping it clean and just monitoring it, so that you can keep your original tooth. She nodded her head and I wanted to scream at her. Did I mention I once had an abscess in my front tooth and a doctor recommended I pull both of my front teeth because they already had crowns from major trauma years before and she thought they were bound to fail at some point? Well I got a second opinion and the other doctor said we should just monitor my teeth because there is nothing as good as the original tooth!

Well I still have my front teeth and haven’t had any issues since. I am vigilant about flossing now, but what if I die with these teeth as the second doctor mentioned was possible? What if I could live a normal life without antidepressants and learn to manage the PMDD with diet, exercise and behavior changes? Don’t I owe it to myself and to my amazing body to try?

These are the things I thought while tears rolled down my cheeks when the psychiatrist said that she would not be able to supervise my taper because I would be going against her medical recommendation and she refused my pleas for just one follow appointment. I even told her I would get back on medicine if the depression or OCD comes back with a vengeance, but she refused and then proceeded to take$500 cash from me. Did I mention behavioral therapists and psychiatrist for OCD in DC don’t take insurance? Essentially I paid $500 for a good cry and a nocebo. That whole experience speaks monuments to the “care” a handful of doctors gave me from the age of 14 when I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar II disorder and begged to not be medicated anymore when I realized a cocktail of powerful medicine was only making me sicker.

But that was 7 weeks ago and now I am writing this to you in my car, utterly exhausted and already scheming how I can sneak into Planet Fitness unnoticed to pee before bed. The gym I usually go to is closed for repairs so I will be in the yeah- I-just-came-in-a-second- ago-and-now-I’m-leaving awkward phase with the new staff for the next week. Maybe I will try to charm them. Highly unlikely though, they will probably just ask me if I have seen the new X-Men movie after I tell them I live in my car. I will probably just walk right in and walk right out and let them sit with their own awkwardness because I’m tired, I’ve been at this for 6 months, and the time for formalities has long since passed.

Majestic & Serene without Effort

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I woke up a little after 6:00 am, slightly irritated that yesterday’s hangover and anxiety lingered. The alcohol was out of my system, but I could feel the effects of dehydration on my system. I thoroughly enjoy drinking but it had been a long time since I enjoyed shots back to back, let alone shots of tequila. I drank some water and did some deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. After a few moments I remembered how much fun the prior night was and agreed that the lingering obsession and slight off feeling was well worth it. After all, sacrifices must be made for the cause and I have passed the days when I feared that an obsession would take hold and haunt me for the rest of my life.

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No more chaffing!

I learned my lesson at Tulum, shorts are an absolute must when going on adventures because the chaff factor is real. I settled on some shorts and a tank top, with my bathing suit underneath. I grabbed my water bottle from the fridge and left the hotel room with 20 minutes to spare. Despite some more profound ritualizing (I figured it would be worse after having given in yesterday) I left without any irritation. I scoffed down my usual at breakfast and headed out to meet my tour bus. It was a 7:00am.

Unlike previous tours, I had to take a local bus to a terminal station and load onto a larger bus. Like always, I tried to stay out of the way and under the radar.  I strategically place myself in line so that I was the last one to enter the large tour bus- I get a front row seat to myself right next to our two guides. They are a lot younger than our previous guides and I am sure they are around my same age. I looked around and realized that this tour was much more commercial than the others. These guides were younger, probably a couple of years out of college. They had matching shirts and hats. At least the bus boasted comfy seats and personal air conditioning- a nice upgrade from the rickety vans and busses I rode on previously.

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All the comforts of Western travel, minus wifi

Before travelling to Chicen-Itza our guide informed us that would be making a few stops. Our first visit was to a Mayan cooperative where we could receive blessings from a Mayan healer and wander through a gift shop of hand crafted jewelry, purses, bags and clothing. Afterwards we would head for lunch near Ik’Kil, one of the most famous xenotes in Mexico before entering Chichen-Itza, the holiest and best preserved of all the Mayan ruins.

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One of our guides telling us about the marketplace

On the way to the Mayan cooperative, our guide treated us to a quick tour of a nearby Spanish village. Even though it would have been nice to have gotten out of the bus and walked the streets, it was wonderful to be able to take in so much of the tiny village from the comfort of our tour bus.

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Spanish style Church, one of the oldest in Mexico

We passed one of the oldest and best preserved of the Spanish temples built following the arrival of the conquistadors. We passed through a large market with woman wearing traditional Mayan clothing, which consisted of a white three piece dress with bright embroidered flowers. One of the woman wore a black scarf, signifying her status as a widow. Our guides tells us that you will see Mayan women mix  western and traditional clothes. When they are wearing the traditional clothing of the Maya, it is an expression of respect and pride for their culture.

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Picture of the small town just 50 miles west of Playa del Carmen.

The bus was moving fast and I barely had time to drink in all the sights and sounds- the honks of tourist busses, the sounds of the car engine and the beautiful Mayan women with their white dresses bursting with colors weaving in and out of the Spanish style and stuccoed buildings.

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Entrance to the Mayan Cooperative features a colorful snake mouth

Soon we arrived at the Mexican cooperative where we learned more about the Mayan calendar system and their fascination with documenting the movement of the stars as well as significant celestial and personal events. Our guide showed us a calendar documenting all the important dates of his life.  He went on to tell us about the significance of the Mayan alphabet and how each sound and letter had a significance. Apparently even the pronunciation of our names provided insight into our passions, potential careers and even our personality. When special words were combined with symbols for protection, wealth or joy, daily prayers could be given to the Gods to secure safe travel, happiness and abundance. These symbols could be worn as necklaces, or placed throughout the home to bless the inhabitants.

One of the things I enjoyed most, was learning about how the Mayan alphabet was combined with stones and prayers to help heal and restore people. Our guide informed us that when the Conquistadors first came to the Mayan cities, they were obsessed with obsidian stone, which adorned the entrances of temples, and shown like gold when the sun hit it.

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Obsidian stone carved in the shape of a snake

 

The Mayan believe that obsidian, which is the dry remains of lava, was the blood of Earth and that protection and purity would be offered if obsidian rocks were placed by the entrance of a house, or worn around an individual’s neck. To maintain the stones purity, or to remove any negative energy which accumulated, the stone just had to be placed in water, underneath the reflection of the moon.

Today we would have the chance to meet a healer who wears a protection pendant and meet the village healer who will happily bless us in a smudging ceremony and pray over any Mayan pendants we purchased.When our guide told me this, I once again felt affirmed by my choice to bring all of my crystals from DC, which coincidentally had already been charged at the top of Nohuch Mul two days prior.  I couldn’t wait to meet the village healer and receive their blessings in a smudge ceremony.

The Mayan cooperative was larger than I expected. Upon entering, we had the opportunity to smudge ourselves and ask for blessings and purification, which I did without hesitation- making sure I intentionally walked slowly so every who was simply going through the motions could finish before me.After uttering some prayers of gratitude I immediately walked to the jewelry making station to pick out my own protection necklace- I was determined to find one thing in Mexico I could use as a memory-something I could do everywhere I travelled. I wanted to find something more meaningful than spoons, or shot glasses or magnets and instead decided I would pick up a piece of jewelry everywhere I traveled. As a first gift to myself, and in honor of the significance of this journey, I splurged on a silver and gold handmade, Mayan protection necklace with my name spelled out.

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The Village healer praying over tourists.

I had several other offerings of gratitude to get for some healers back in DC. I decided early on I wouldn’t be bringing back ‘gifts’ from any of my travelers for friends or family unless they were offerings for a past for future energy exchange. More on this later. For now just know I paid for my protection necklace and then walked through  hundreds of square feet of obsidian and crystal tools and totems while my custom jewelry was completed. I found the perfect offerings and hurried away to find my necklace. Time was running out and I wanted to have the healer bless my things before I returned back to the states.

As you can imagine, the smudge ceremony in the healing tent with my crystals, obsidian totems and necklace was super emotional. I literally just balled silently while this man with gentle eyes smudged burnt amber over my body, the smoke filling the tent and blocking my vision. He reached into a small wooden bowl and brushed cool water on several leaves. Uttering in Spanish and Maya, he asked for my name if I understood Spanish, and proceeded to wipe my face with the watery leaves. All the while I stood with my hands full, tears falling down my cheeks. Did he know the significance of this journey? Would I help to heal people like him one day?

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The Village Healers Tent, our guide is to the right.

So many questions and so little time. I came out of the tent crying and our guides smiled when I told them (in Spanish) how I had been waiting for this and how emotional I was because of the work I hoped to do oneday in the United States. They too waited patiently for the smudge ceremony and ushered me patiently into the van without a glimmer of judgment or confusion about my red eyes.

We were the last to arrive to the tour bus and I quickly grabbed my things and plopped down in my seat. Along the way, a young Mayan man called to me, joking playfully about my how beautiful I was. I thanked him in Spanish and he asked to greet me. He reached his hands out, and OCD seized me. His hands were covered in soot and it triggered an intense disgust reaction-really all that’s left of the contamination OCD. I wasn’t afraid I would catch something, it just felt dirty. Not wanting to be triggered, I pretended I didn’t understand and waved a hand in the air, grateful to have escaped without adding another obsession to the list and ashamed that I didn’t want to shake hands with him. Normally I would have pushed myself but I was still a little more anxious than usual and I figured it was worth it to try and enjoy the rest of my trip. I also realized that I don’t have to do anything out of convenience for another. I feel half bad about it now, but I know there will be a time for pushing boundaries when I returned. (It’s important to note that I was in the middle of my medicine taper during this trip and forgot my Zoloft. Towards the end of the trip my goal was simply not to freak out without my medicine or loose an entire vacation to obsessing and ritualizing, in case withdrawal hit me.

We journeyed another 45 minutes away to one of the most beautiful xenotes I have ever seen. Even after experiencing several different xenotes the day before I left, this was my all time favorite, and a hands down must see for anyone visiting Chichen-Itza.

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Everywhere you looked was breathtaking. And I mean everywhere.

The entire area was like an oasis in the desert. Trees and beautiful flowers lined a tile pathway that meandered around a large xenote opening and throughout a shower and sitting area. I opted to grab a locker and skipped out on the life jacket rental, figuring I could save a couple of bucks. I only checked the locker twice before I realized I wasn’t doing a god job ignoring the urge to check, before I literally just told myself who cares and left the tiny blue locker to go cliff jumping in Ik’Kil.

And so I did…and it was amazing. Apparently this xenote is where the red bull cliff diving competition happens. I can understand the allure of this area- so beautiful it didn’t even bother me that the place was swamped with tourists.

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Top view of the xenote, Ik’Kil

The cool part about this xenote is that you descend maybe 65 or 70 feet into a cave before the water greets you. Immediately to your right are three large diving steps with eager tourists. To your left is cool, silvery limestone cave descending straight up. Right above you is the piercing sunlight sparkling on the blue xenote water- tree roots and vines fell from the ceiling and water trickled from the walls. Tiny black catfish swam in circles around you and everywhere you looked was breathtaking.

It was pretty freaky swimming in the 150+ feet of water without a life jacket- but I felt comfortable pushing myself. When I became tired, I floated on my back into the center of the xenote so that the sun could hit my face and I could rest. When I grew tired of that, I practiced the breathe stroke to the side of the xenote where a yellow rope had been conveniently placed for tired swimmers to sit on, grab or rest near.

I spent around 30 minutes in the xenote, even jumping of the medium cliff twice before heading up for food. It was absolutely breathtaking and I wondered if there was some way to stay overnight in this area- I was getting the feeling I was only skimming the surface of these cites with my pre-packaged tours.

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Lunch was wonderful. I enjoyed all of the food- although I wasn’t sure if the fruits and vegetables were safe to eat (google warned me about eating raw fruits and vegetables that weren’t washed in filtered water) so unfortunately, I stayed away from the pico de gallo and fruit when out on daily excursions. But it didn’t matter, because I was in Mexico having the trip of a lifetime and each view filled me up in a way no fruit, or vegetable or margarita ever could.

Lunch was peaceful. I invited myself to a table with a group from Mexico City that thought it was so interesting that I spoke the language and was traveling solo. Not in the mood for back and forth discussion, I thanked them and hurried my meal- eager to walk around and snap a few pictures before it was time to head back to the bus.

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View of the grounds leading out from Ik’Kil

I soaked it all in. Writing to you now, I remember everything about that xenote. I remember the sun hitting my peeling shoulders and the frigid water of the cold showers.

Everything was exactly as it should be- majestic and serene without effort.

I was happy to hear that we were less than 15 minutes from Chichen-Itza. Knowing that most of the national archaeological sites closed at 5:00, I figured we had a little over two hours to explore Chichen Itza before the 2 and a half hour ride back to Cancun.

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Chichen Itza was added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites in 2015

We arrived at Chicen Itza and immediately felt the sun beat on our face and shoulders. Everywhere you went vendors shouted “get your hat-only 3 dollars, get your umbrella-only 3 dollars, very cheap, very cheap.” Our guides warned us about the heat and advised us to wear hats and I could have kicked myself for not having bought that REI hat last minute. To make matters worse, I realized I purchased sun tan oil instead of sun block from the hotel. I had done that before, forgetting that some people need help tanning. I bit the bullet though- my shoulders were already recovering from a sun burn and as long as I stayed under the shade of trees, I figured I would be okay.

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The Sun was not playing any games…

The first hour of Chichen-Itza was with our guide. Because our group contained more than 35 people, we split everyone up into two groups-Spanish and English. I opted for the Spanish group, hoping I would understand enough to follow.

Upon entering Chichen-Itza, I immediately realized why it was one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.  The scale and grandeur of the buildings was hard to imagine. The size of everything was made even more pronounced by the ever approaching jungle, whose shadows encroached on the outskirts of the sites and over buildings that had yet to be excavated.

Even though some of the information, and even jokes told by the tour guides  were the same as the facts Miguel shared two days prior when I visited Coba and Tulum it was good to hear everything again in Spanish. Our guide spoke very fast but always began every sentence with a question, which was very helpful for me. “Why did the Mayan build temples” she would begin, before re stating ‘The Mayan built temples to track the stars and perform religious ceremonies. Even though we call these buildings and ruins, they are really giant calendars and observatories.

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View of Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo

We stopped briefly for photos near the famous Kukulkan Pyramid known as “El Castillo” where thousands of tourists gather during the Spring Equinox to witness a light in the shape of a serpent zig zag its way down from the top of the pyramid. And as legend says, drink from the waters of the nearby Sacred Xenote, where sacrifices were made during times of drought.

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Serpent head depicting the Mayan God Kukulkan

Our guide shared more amazing details about the significance of numbers to each of the structures, whose dimensions were embedded with the Mayan’s love for 20 and other significant numbers such as the number of days in a year, the human gestation period and the lunar phase. The sun beat down on us and our guide quickly led us to the Ball Court, where the ball game Pok a Tok was played and we were treated to a demonstration of the court’s awesome acoustics.

 

We also visited the Temples of the Serpent and Eagle and the Temple of Venus. Our guide elaborated on the significance of Chichen-Itza as a religious site where the Mayan would travel hundreds of miles for prayers, healing and special celebrations.

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The Temple of Venus

She told us about the road system constructed by the Maya and my mind drifted- I could imagine walking through the jungle under the light of the moon- the face of Kukulkan standing out above the jungle canopy.

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Our guide pointing out hieroglyphs on the Temple of the Eagle

Even though I enjoyed the comfort of the group, most of the information was repeat and I often found myself lagging behind- to busy snapping for the perfect selfie or pictures of the detailed buildings. After an hour long tour, consisting of carefully crafted stops to minimize our exposure to the sun by distracting us with math questions and other group activities until we could huddle under the shade of a nearby tree for Q&A, we were given an hour to roam the remainder of the site.

With only an hour to spare I half walked, jogged to the far corners of the site. I first visited the Temple of a Thousand Warriors, whose tall pillars looked out over the vast courtyard, just behind Kukulkan Pyramid. To the right of it lay the Temple of Big Pillars, whose presence was quiet, but deafening. The faded shouts of vendors selling cheap Mayan calendar for only 5 dollars was lost to the intensity of the two adjacent structures. The tourists even whispered when taking shots in this area- surely we could feel the sacredness of the site.

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View of the Temple of a Thousand Warriors

Afterwards I walked another 400 meters to the site of el Carcacol, commonly known as the Observatory. It was my favorite of all the ruins and in my opinion, the most interesting of all the structures I visited while in Mexico. I was amazed at the beauty of the dome shaped monument whose back wall abutted the dense jungle. The terraced steps where beautifully engineered and the entire building was a marvel. I wish I could have seen this place at night- I’m sure the stars would only have added to the unique sense of place.

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El Carocal, or simply the “Observatory”

With 40 minutes left to spare, I wandered even further to snap some intimate shots of the Monja complex, which housed several church like buildings and Akab Dzib, the intricate home of the City’s administrator which was named after all the tiny building chambers. Tourists thinned out and I was so happy to be able to grab some clear shots of the ruins without anyone obstructing my view.

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View of Akab Dzib with its many small chambers

I completely lost myself for a good 20 minutes while wondering the edges of the site. Every building had a story to tell. I wondered what colors splashed the walls thousands of years ago, what it would have been like when other indigenous tribes such as the Zapotecs overtook the city and forced Mayans to construct pyramids. I wondered what other mysteries lay hidden beneath the forest ruins. I thought about the ugly mix of modern buildings that dot the concrete streets of Washington, D.C. So uninspiring-surely we could learn a thing or two from the Maya.

 

I took so many pictures without even bothering to see if they were blog worthy-I just snapped and snapped and snapped every few moments between the loud rummaging of iguanas which sounded like jaguars stalking in the forest to the novice traveler. It was amazing and by far one of the highlights of my entire trip. It was different than Tulum and Coba. The energy around the city was so captivating. I couldn’t wait to return. I couldn’t help but feel like there was more for me to see and experience there- 2 and a half hours was not nearly enough to take it all in.

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Panaramaic view of buildings near the Monja Complex

With less than 5% battery and 10 minutes until the buss packed up, I sped walk back to the bus- weaving my way through hundreds of Mayan vendors who were wrapping up their goods in newspaper.  I snapped a picture of the Osorio or High Priestess temple where many human remains have been found.

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The Osario Temple

I didn’t even bother to stop at the bathroom when I left. Clearly I was incredibly dehydrated, having been too exhausted to have finished all the water I brought with me. On the way back I lightly sipped some warm water I had packed with me. I was just buzzing from the experience and sent as sent as many pictures of my experience to loved ones back home as soon as I got a signal. Chichen Itza was such a powerful experience.

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The entire trip home I quietly stared out my window at the jungle and reflected on what I had seen and felt. I thought about the Mayan cooperative we visited and clutched my protection necklace. For the first time all day, I realized the one obsession that had lingered from the day before seemed meaningless.

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Check out my sun burn!

2 and a half hours later and I arrived back the GR Solaris- sun burnt, exhausted and buzzing with energy. I was supposed to catch dinner with Nelly that night but I was to tired from the travels. I politely sent her a text while scarfing down food at the hotel.  I considered drinking some beer, but realized I just wanted some cool water and a good night’s sleep.

I had been up since 6 am and returned from the day’s travels around 7:30 pm. I was so exhausted I could barely function in the shower- mustering the last bits of strength I had to wash my dreads, clean my bathing suit and set some things aside for tomorrow. I was out by 9 p.m, exhausted, but excited for tomorrow. I would be visiting four different xenotes, where I would have the chance to snorkel, kayak, zip line and repel.

Before I drifted off to sleep, I remembered thinking, “I had the adventure of a lifetime and I still have one day left. How lucky am I?”

I get Emotional when I Parasail

I woke up early and immediately felt at ease. Today was going to be easy-lavish breakfast on the beach while someone sells me on a time share opportunity followed by trip planning and some outdoor excursion.  I had an itch to get out and experience the water and that beautiful, brilliant beach sun.

iphone pics 2077Breakfast by the beach was AMAZING-minus the birds that ate your food when you returned to the buffet. To distract myself and avoid a run in with them, I ordered a coffee, a mimosa and an orange juice all at once, then treated myself to waffles, sausage, eggs and fresh fruit. It was absolutely divine. Every morsel of food expressed itself in a delicious array of colors, textures and flavors.  For instance, the sweetest, lightest, smoothest agave nectar you’ve ever had, drizzled over perfectly prepared waffles; rich and savory sausage from a culture that embraces pork; and only the freshest fruit, some you’ve never tasted, radiating sugary hues of red, yellow and orange.  The whole experience was extremely satisfying and a delight for the senses.  20 minutes later and I was done.  Done questioning whether I made the right decision to come to Mexico alone and sold on returning to Cancun again this year.

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Enrique, personable salesmen

Then came the tour. The well-traveled and personable salesmen. The perfectly executed sales pitch. The beautiful view. The selfies by the beach. The bait. The hook. The toggle back and forth. The excitement of possibility and the reality of resource constraints and timing. The polite “thank you, but no thank you”. The sales manager, then pretty sales girl number two. Then FINALLY, “the deal of a life time, take it or leave it”. And one last, firm “I just arrived yesterday. I need some time to think about it.” In just over 2 hours I was out of there, bathing suite in tow and planning my first excursion.

parasailing 026It’s hard to explain how extra fresh the beaches of Cancun feel. The crystal clear blue of the Caribbean, the perfect glow of the Sun, the sandy white beaches, are all so beautiful. In fact, everywhere you look is beautiful. And people are beautiful too, because they have deliberately given themselves permission to relax on vacation.  And for a moment in time, on an eight miles Island in the Yucatan peninsula, everything around you is beautiful and everyone around you is happy, and you realize how magical and wonderful and overwhelmingly vast and beautiful the world is. You ask yourself why anyone would subject themselves to the confinement of a cubicle and 9-5 and only get away once a year if they are lucky. I have never felt so inspired in my entire life. I have never felt more connected and present with Mother Earth and my own journey. I realized I had gravely underestimated the capacity to be truly moved by the sight, smell and touch of the Ocean and the sensation of being so present in my own life. For the first time in a long time, my body, mind and spirit where in perfect alignment. I was free.

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This is the experience I had while parasailing-truly breathtaking. I highly recommend it.

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After receiving my official parasailing Girl Scout badge (mind you I spoke Spanish the entire time), I realized I underestimated my enthusiasm for athleticism and pushing the envelope. I absolutely loved riding on the wave runners, hopping up and over huge waves, often experiencing zero gravity.  I decided I wanted to spend some more time connecting with the water and so after swimming in the ocean (for the first time in my life) and chatting with a couple of friendly gals from Los Angeles, I headed over to aqua world for a speed boat tour and snorkeling trip on the nearby Laguna.

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This is when I first discovered that being a single traveler meant I always coupled with the odd man in travel parties.  For the lagoon tour and snorkeling, I was paired with a young millennial from China who was living in Los Angeles. She didn’t have a license, so lucky me, I got to drive. It was very obvious we belonged to two different cultures. Imagine me trying to explain what a crocodile is? The theatrics only made it worse. But the Cancun Kumbaya effect was still in full effect, and there were many moments when we glanced at one another and gave each other that ‘this is awesome look’. I’m pretty sure we shouted exuberantly in unison at times as well.
The magic of the boat ride in to the Laguna was matched equally by the rush I felt after realizing I was about to knock snorkeling off my bucket list after arriving to Mexico a mere 24 hours ago. The snorkeling gear was awkward. I didn’t like that the goggles were reused but I pretended the salt water and sun would kill anything icky (or so my Mom tells me). It felt good to be able to see underwater and breathe.  I felt so supported by the waves. They were blunted by the surrounding coral reef which made each wave feel like a gentle lullaby.

One thing is for sure, humans are super awkward in the water. Plus it’s terrifying as shit when you realized you are so exposed in the open water. I had flash backs to watching that movie (I think it’s really called Open Waters) where the divers where left in the ocean for like 4 days and didn’t make it, because SHARKS ate them. Then I realized that more than likely, there were sharks nearby. Our guide didn’t say any
thing and no one else mentioned so I just assumed that they wouldn’t come inside the reef where fish were smaller and scarcer, and the water levels dropped low to the sand bars during low tide.

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Amazingly, this is near where I had breakfast earlier.

Amazingly, checking out my back side every 5 minutes or so was enough to tame the shark fear and I pushed myself to venture out to the edge of the reef. I wish I could describe how it felt-almost like being weightless and time stopping because you are underwater, but still breathing and moving so slowly and deliberately. I can’t wait to share the underwater pictures with you all when I get them developed. For now, just know that apart from sometimes swallowing sea water when a wave rushed over your snorkel, and water occasionally rushing into your mask, snorkeling was pretty sweet. I enjoyed touching the coral reef, watching the fish swim so close to me and dart off at the last second. I even peeped a couple of really large coral fish and some sea urchin.

I wondered if any of the sea weed or vegetation around me contained some unknown medicinal qualities. I thought about an article I read about the potential to transform the way we eat with ocean agriculture-there being so many undiscovered fruits and vegetables under the sea and all. I wondered if I would ever be brave enough to swim out in the open sea with sharks. I wondered if my underwater camera selfies would come out good. I wondered if anyone would ever see the pictures or hear about how I felt snorkeling in the Caribbean by myself. Clearly there’s a lot to think about when you are snorkeling.

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By 6 or so I had finished snorkeling and decided to walk 2 miles back to the hotel to dry off. In all the excitement of crossing off my bucket list item, I realized I jumped into the ocean with my shorts and tank top still on. You can see from the pictures though that it didn’t matter because I looked so cool! By the time I arrived at the hotel I was exhausted and sun kissed.

I took a quick shoiphone pics 2124.JPGwer and headed to the Mexican night celebration where I ran into the two gals from Los Angeles. We decided to dine together and watch a show celebrating Mexican history, music and culture. The lavish buffet was full of fruits and dishes I had never heard and was too tired to make note of. Mostly, it was a relief to be eating food with flavor again-the all you can eat lunch options at the hotel tastes like the Mexican version of Golden Corral. Plus watching the costumes, listening to the music and learning about the traditions and history of the Mexican people through song and dance, was the perfect finish to an intense day.

By 10 pm the show had ended and I was exhausted. I had to take my hiney to bed. The next day was a 12 hour visit to Tulum and Coba, two of the oldest and best preserved of the Mayan ruins. I wanted to be well rested.

What Living off the Grid has Taught Me

Living off the grid was was always the plan-my path to self awareness, my offering to Mother Earth, my protest of the system, my end game. But looking back at how this journey unfolded, I realize there was always a part of me that chucked it up to empty threats from a clinically depressed and anxious idealist, turned young sustainability professional. And then somewhere between shuffling through unfullfilling jobs every 18 months, chipping away at $80,000 of student loan debt and re-inventing myself every three years,  a small part of me SERIOUSLY started to chuck this off the grid talk as nonsense.  I remember telling someone my intentions and then squirming in anguish when they responded, “it gets cold outside”.  Maybe they were right. Was this some illusive attempt to exert control over my life?  An easy out from the never ending perils of human interaction and interpersonal dynamics? Or perhaps the ultimate solution to ending the cyclical misery I experienced while living in a system that does not serve me, humanity or the Earth?

In truth, it was none of those things, but SO, SO much more. I have just always been a space cadet with my head in the clouds– one of those dreamers with an intense, unquenchable and often times annoying excitement about the world.  I’ve always been interested in the bizarre, the strange, the inexplicable, the experience–what lays beyond the boundaries and off the beaten path. And I’ve always admired, and been drawn to people who feel the same way– the people who live and thrive on the fringes of society with full body tattoos, scars and wild stories. The black sheep, the one’s who have that “I don’t give a fuck what you think” look.

So here I was, this free spirited, self declared wild child who reveled in their stories, and aspired to be them, but couldn’t dare take the leap. So, I soaked up stories in between emotional breakdowns, passive aggressive managers and throughout a host of meaningless activities, until one day, my life became something I wasn’t interested in participating in, contributing to or living in. Lot’s of other complicated things happened along the way, but the repression of this dream and all the limiting beliefs tied with it, cost me big time.  I hit my all time personal low in May of 2015. And believe me I, have been to some pretty low places. This was the first time I  started to lose everything around me –my dog, my job, my family, my sanity– until destiny intervened.

And then BOOM!!! In less than 6 months I lost everything, gained it all (back and then some), AND managed to land in the driver’s seat of my life again. What started off as a rant became a dream. And then during my recovery process, that dream became a vision, and that vision became fused with value and meaning. In the course of a month, I started to integrate this new paradigm into my collective experience. Suddenly I realized I had re-invented myself for the last time. Instead of the usual pack up all my things, give notice and move across the country, I birthed myself anew– only this time when I woke, I stood firm in my path, content with my inadequacies and sensitivities- full of a renewed sense of spirit and an unwavering passion fueled by this cosmic intersection of dreams and destiny.

This is my story, so far…

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Car camping and some Netflix time

I started my off the grid journey on December 16, 2015. I had been slowly getting rid of clothes and belongings over the past three years and thought I’d pursue a ‘non’traditional’ lifestyle in hopes of getting out of a stressful living situation and immersing myself in life affirming activities. At the time, a sense of freedom, travelling and financial independence where priority items on the get excited about life again list. So I set my intention to Airbnb, short rent and travel instead of signing a lease. and shortly moved out gifting everything I owned to my siblings in the process. So there I was– moving like a nomad through the gentrified streets of Washington, D.C. in hopes of renewing my sense of life and nurturing my adventurous spirit. To be honest, it worked too well. I spent the first week camped out in the backyard of a girlfriend’s house, praying I could hold my morning dump until I made it to work. Other than that, it was a sweet setup. I had wash station, some nice foliage for the occasional pit stop and I was less than 2 miles from a metro station.

But El Nino only lasted so long and eventually the cold of winter set in. I survived in my friends’ back yard until freezing rains led me to car camp in a National Forest. After deciding that sleeping in my car for $16 dollars a night was a bad deal, I realized I could probably find a chill residential area, sleep in my car, shorten my commute and save around $360 bucks a month. So I did, until a stranger came knocking on my door and freaked me out one night. Plus, public peeing in the rain and those DAMN street lights were killing me. I eventually settled on a private parking lot with 24/7 access to my gym AND a fresh shower. Alas, I had found my ideal location, which I conveniently named headquarters, or HQ for short.

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Camping in a friends’ back yard!

I spent the entirety of January and February sleeping in that parking lot alongside another super secret hospital location that was amazing, but far away from everything. A few #urbanexcursions later to New York, West Virginia, Boston, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach as well as a stay in an AirBnB while winter storm Jonas decimated the DMV and a short stint at a friend’s office apartment that went sour, and I realized that this lifestyle was not only easy and inexpensive– it was incredibly freeing.  The awful depression ceased and the anxiety lifted. For the first time in a long time, I was in love with life again.

Today marks three months of cold nights in cars,  wet nights in random camp grounds and an array of AirBnB’s. So many times I woke up in the tender hours of the morning to the sound of rain, or birds bustling, or wind whipping my tent and that quiet feeling you get when you wake up and witness your own experience. Living off the grid has  strengthened my tool box for self improvement and taught me so many lessons, both big and small. I learned how to brush my teeth without running water, find the best places to shower and the cleanest restrooms to take a shit in. I learned that I can push my body to extremes with little food and water and I have become much more in tune with my own body. I’ve come to understand the true value of a dollar, a favor, a friend and an accurate weather forecast. I’ve learned how valuable time is and how closely my life is tied to the weather, the elements and the seasons.

In short, living off the grid has been a total mind fuck in the truest sense. It’s also taught me a helluva lot about my big, fat, complicated emotional life. It’s also shown me that I am stronger than I think and more resilient than I give myself credit for.  I’ve learned the freedom of flexibility and profoundly deepened my gratitude for shelter, sleep and sustenance. It’s also exposed some pretty unhealthy habits, limiting beliefs and thoughts I have about what is right and wrong, and who I am and ought to be.

Of all the things I have experienced and cherished most about the journey, the single most important lesson I’ve learned so far, is that there is NOTHING more exhilarating, fulfilling or life affirming than [walking] confidently in the direction of your dreams and living the life you’ve always imagined.

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for witnessing my journey. I look forward to sharing more with you, as I study the art of the tumbling weed.

 

 

Why I gave it all away…

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Everything I own…

On December 16, 2015, I decided to give everything away and live a life with “no things”. So I took the plunge and decided to couch surf, camp and explore the concept of Mother Earth as my rightful landlord. Now everything I own, less a box of baby stuff my mom won’t throw out, fits in the trunk of my car.

And with no timeline, or end date in sight, I am determined to see this thing out- pay off my student loans, explore the world, learn a thing or too, fuck up, challenge the status quo and discover the lost art of the tumble weed.