Leaving Wien; what am I taking with me?

Traveling can be a reminder of so many wonders that get buried under the to-do lists of daily living: presence, inspiration, curiosity, and fresh interpersonal connections. I am often out of my comfort zone when I travel, especially internationally, and these deeply meaningful aspects of life may rise up to the surface. My first trip on the underground, going to little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, immersing myself in art exhibits, and walking through rooms where my favorite composers wrote their most celebrated compositions all became more magical and felt more steeped in significance than had I been in my own country, among my own places and people. Of course, this gets further highlighted when I travel by myself, and even more so when I’m surrounded by a language that is not my own. This special isolation is fertile ground for a renewed examination of how I view my life.

I believe our lives are best seen from a distance. Light observation, soft, unimposing, and without chronic attention to detail, all foster a healthy view of life. Although I’m not confident this excerpt serves as the best example of what I’m exploring here, I am reminded of a few lines from Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Marriage”:

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

I do my best to let this advice guide me in my relationships, especially in my partnership. Freshness and air are essential in maintaining interest, energy, individuality, and in helping to let go of the little prickly things that inevitably and regularly pop up. But can this beautiful suggestion also be applied to how we view our lives? Socrates gave us the adage that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I counter that the over-examined life can be rigid, microscopic, self-absorbed, and dull. The newness of traveling can re-inspire one to put down the magnifying glass, step up to a higher plane, and reflect on life with a larger perspective.

I try my best to place experiences that happen to me into a logical context, but I often can’t let go of this nagging idea that life events fall into ordered, delightful, and meaningful patterns. What I mean to say is, I wish to now turn to a very unscientific way of looking at life that doesn’t follow data and cannot be backed up by evidence nor quantified in a statistically significant way.

A game that I enjoy playing, especially when I’m falling asleep, is to track significant events and people in my life. A good visual representation of this game might be Candy Land.

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Have you played this game in the last two decades? It’s actually remarkably boring.

The two blonde children in overalls and striped shirts are like me as a child. I start on the game of life. When I usually play this game as I’m falling asleep, I often start with my decision to go to the University of Puget Sound. I think this is where I begin because this is when I left my parents’ house and my decision-making faculty increased exponentially. I felt in charge of my own life. So I suppose Plumpy stands for UPS.

At UPS I met Timmer O’Phelan (remember the days?). Timmer can be Lord Licorice. When I visited Timmer in St. Paul one Christmas break, I met his friend (?) who, when seing the Monteverde book I had brought along, suggested I study abroad in Costa Rica (represented by the Peppermint Forest). In Costa Rica I met Rachelle, who got me a job in Juneau for the summer (Juneau = Jolly). There I met William, who brought me to Mount Shasta, which moved me to Ashland, which is where Patchy Sanders enveloped me for three years, and whose ending inspired the move to Alaska and the start of graduate school (wow, I think we’re already with Gloppy and his Molasses Swamp). I don’t know if I can fit the rest of my game into just one King Kandy, but what happens next is I fly to Las Vegas (for the first and last time) and attend the 15th Annual International Hibernation Conference in 2016. I hear a talk on telomere dynamics in hibernating edible dormice. Flash forward a year-and-a-half later and the lead author of that study is opening the gate for me to the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Biological Research in Vienna, Austria. This was definitely Candy Castle.

Do you play this game too? I love hopping on the stepping stones of my life, remembering all the wonderful people that have waltzed in and out. Yet out of all the people I have met in my life, the ones that represent these stepping stones feel…different. You could chalk it up to my placing my own subjective meaning onto them, but that doesn’t sound very interesting. I have this feeling this has all already been set up and will continue to be perfectly orchestrated. This is a tricky thing to explain, especially as I’m not insinuating a Higher Power is due credit. I think what it comes down to, for me, is that humans have remarkably complex brains that create our own delightfully complicated, beautiful, and sometimes scary or harmful realities. I’m coming to realize the power of crafting my own personal reality and how this directly correlates with how satisfied I am in my life. “Satisfaction is based on expectations, and expectations come from within”, so said a wise young man in my life. I am self-creating my world, every minute, and I choose to create one that is structured by meaningful, beautifully orchestrated stepping stones of influential and remarkable people to connect with, however briefly, for the rest of my life.

So, this is what I take from Wien. The most recent step in my life-game, a further solidification of how I choose to view my life, and a rejuvenation of inspiration, presence, and meaning.

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Inside the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library).

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The pregnant fullness of life

I’m not pregnant. But the fullness of life is feeling so full that the pregnant adjective (full of meaning; significant or suggestive) just felt right.

Life feels full when you watch your ex-boyfriend’s music video, recorded in Ashland, where you used to live. Seeing him succeed, seeing him follow his dream of pursuing music while really understanding what that means for him, what he’s struggled with to get there, means so much to me. Knowing that he is so happy right now, with his current partner and with his pursuit of music, is indescribably full. All the complexities that come along with that. All the thoughts and memories and feelings that come from watching a short video.

Life really is just continuing along in Ashland, isn’t it? While I’m up here creating an entirely new life. I’m realizing I’m already becoming unrecognizable to myself. The Alaska Sara doesn’t recognize the Ashland Sara, is starting to forget her. And then I see a video of my friends eating chips and salsa the way they always have and Ashland Sara explodes onto the scene.

And I don’t miss that Ashland Sara. I like where and how I’m growing. I feel deep, continuous joy in Alaska, something I didn’t feel in Ashland. I felt lost in Ashland. I see now, in hindsight, how often I felt deeply sad in Ashland. Unrooted, clinging to outside validation, stumbling along blindly. Is this just what your early- to mid-twenties is all about? Is it an age thing or a place thing?

I do miss my Ashland family. I do not miss Ashland. These two feelings were interplaying while watching Henry and Gaur play music on the stoop, while watching Jenika hold her bass, while watching Kimee eating pizza.

This thought has been rumbling around in me: life does not get “better” by my decisions or my actions, life gets better by what I choose to accept. If I accept more, life is better, life is more, life is fuller. Accept, then decide if you want to or can change the situation. An acceptance-based approach to decision-making or to life-orienting is more congruent with life’s natural flow, it is easier, it takes less energy, it is more harmonious.

You might think: but I can’t accept this situation (e.g. abusive relationship, unfulfilling job, dog that chews everything, our current political environment, etc.). The unacceptance creates the friction. Accept what is happening in the current moment, and then from that place decide what you can do to change the situation, if you’d like. Accept you are being abused in your relationship, then with that clarity reach out for support. Accept that your job is unfulfilling, then with that clarity begin to troubleshoot how you can improve your situation. Acceptance brings you the natural ability to discern.

“Acceptance is a small, quiet room” – Cheryl Strayed

Does this post get the prize for “Most Disorganized” and “Highest Rate of Rambling” and “Not Sure What She’s Really Getting At”? I think so. You can watch Henry’s video here: Shakin’ the Bush.

My thoughts on being a human

I wish someone (you) could really see what it is like to be me. I think it may be impossible to describe in words, so I’m going to try. For you, for me.

The last time I was in Onalaska I really realized how human I was, in a new way, when I was thinking about the inevitability of my own death. Why am I alive, why do I know life, if only to die? And why do I know death? And from the darkness of my mind I felt my own heart beating. My brain knows I will die, yet my heart keeps beating in spite of. Something about that innate dichotomy feels very essentially human.

As I grow older and gain more experience and hurt and love and meditate more [side note: often the last thing I want to do in the entire world is sit to meditate, even though it is the purest medicine I can conceive of…perhaps this will make it on my Human list (see below)], I feel my human life becoming more real. Right now, as I sit at the cabin owned by my future sister, with a hot woodstove and yellow down booties and tea that was once to hot to drink, with dog hair on the rug and nascent knitting projects and outside the leaves are dying, my life feels more real than it ever has. It’s as if there is always a dusty, greasy glass pane suspended in my field of vision, and every new experience of pain or joy comes with a rag in its ephemeral hand to wipe away a little more grime. Slowly I see my humanity for what it really is.

Perhaps ironically, my recent scientific endeavors have opened me up spiritually. To say there is nothing spiritual in the communication of neurons and in the tireless workings of our cells’ organelles is blind and sad to me. Magic that we can’t even begin to grasp is occurring furiously, continuously, in our own bodies. Furthermore, the miracle of abstract, novel thought arising in my brain and translating from my central nervous system to my skeletal muscles to write these words is ungraspably grand. Even wilder, the magic of my conceptual mind is conceiving of the magic of my conceptual mind. Please think about that.

In the spirit of list making, here are some examples of what I consider pure Humanness.

  1. A lifetime of the same repeated mistakes, especially in the face of “knowing better”.
  2. Dreading the “sit” until you sit and it’s like pure spring water flowing into your dirty veins until it gets hard and you spend the last fifteen minutes waffling about whether to get up prematurely and make coffee.
  3. The unique and strange satisfaction of popping a pimple when it was really ready.
  4. Feeling so lonely and lost you can’t move. Or you don’t stop moving in an attempt that the lost loneliness can’t find you.
  5. Driving across town to buy a $3.49 bottled sparkling water from Arkansas when you live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Other species don’t do this.
  6. Watching the inner workings of your mind unravel at 3 pm on a Thursday while deciding which shape of pasta to buy and calmly pondering if this is what going insane feels like.
  7. Asking the same boy out again even when it was pretty clear it didn’t work out the first time but maybe there’s a chance now? Also see: hiding uncertainty, fear, and confusion behind respectful, mature, and honest communication with the opposite sex.
  8. Guilt and shame.

I feel like I present myself as capable, hard-working, driven, strong, independent, and successful. To really know me, you need to know that I’m fragile, scared, habitual, and self-serving. Being a human in remarkably messy. I want to see you as a messy human being. I want to love you as one too. Please show me your heart mess and if I’m feeling brave I’ll show you mine.

I’m just trying to continue on with both eyes open.

Klimt, The Friends, 1971

Choices

In every situation you are blessed with the ability to make a choice. You have been given free will to make decisions to express your true self in any given moment. This is a great gift, your greatest gift, choosing in each moment how to live your life.

When the misguided notions of “wrong” and “right” are gently laid aside, the world becomes your oyster. Naturally, you will begin to make decisions that feel harmonious and clear. Outcomes of your decisions will present themselves and you can use these as tools to make the same, or different, choices down the road. There is no condemnation, there are no pats on the back. Your life is exactly the way it is, or is not, because of all the choices you have made along the way.

Better to believe it: you are the creator of your life. Are you courageous enough to live a life of utmost integrity, grace, and authenticity?

The race is in one week from today. I’ve spent the past nine months preparing for this! The last three weeks spent at high altitude have been great for my training. This week I plan on staying hydrated, rested, well-fed, stretched, and positive. Marathon!