April 19, 2018 – Tokyo, Japan
For all the cool, exciting, Instagram-able moments I’ve had on my trip, there have been so many more spent in quiet reflection, learning from the foreign things around me, listening to what my heart is saying quietly, that usually get drowned out by the noise of every day. Those have led to breakthroughs – some that I wanted and was hoping to have, others that were completely unexpected but incredibly powerful and necessary.
I don’t know if any of those breakthroughs would have happened if I just stayed in my “normal” environment. I suspect maybe they would have, after years of therapy and the universe continually throwing the same lesson at me time and again. But some of them, maybe not. I think it’s a unique set of conditions on this trip in particular that have helped me, and while this is what I needed for these particular breakthroughs, I think there is a way to cultivate this type of growth in everyday life if you actively work to create the right conditions. (Note: I know earlier in this paragraph I said I didn’t think these things would happen in my “normal” environment, and then I just said they could be cultivated in everyday life. I consider “normal” environment the life you have when you’re just kind of passively floating through, more as an observer or bystander than an active director. You have to be actively directing to cultivate this, which takes a lot of work. And you have to learn how to do it, which I think is what I’ve been learning on this trip.)
These would be the tips I have for cultivating the right environment in your everyday life:
SELF CARE: I can’t stress how important this one is. As a culture, we do not do this. Women especially don’t do it, and even if men do it, I think it’s usually accidental and unnamed. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve seen friends and colleagues consider “self-care” as getting professional help for medical conditions they’ve been suffering from. That is NOT self-care (although, if when reading this, you thought “yeah, I really should get to the doctor for X,” please stop reading IMMEDIATELY and make yourself an appointment – this blog post will be here later, I promise). Self-care needs to be a daily practice (YES, I SAID DAILY) where you do something that’s just for you. I was going to say something that makes you feel good, but I don’t want you to get confused that it’s something that’s selfish and indulgent. Sometimes the “good” feeling is just feeling slightly less stressed when your days are full of anxiety. Sometimes it’s spending a few moments alone when you feel like you spend your entire life pouring your soul into other living beings. Whatever it is, it is something that should make you feel like you’re valuing yourself. That you’re saying “I’m important enough to need and deserve this.” That’s why the act itself isn’t really all that important. It’s about treating yourself right. Most days it will be something small, like taking 5 minutes to make yourself a fancy latte or smoothie before work, or reading for 10 minutes before you go to bed. You DO have time for those things – maybe it means 5-10 minutes less sleep, but the energy you get from caring for yourself will more than make up for it. Maybe even try 5-10 minutes less on social media? The point being, you have to value time for self-care (i.e., value YOURSELF) enough to make the trade-off and sacrifice something else you would normally be doing that isn’t serving you (as much). Other times (and you will know when these are) it will be something bigger that you need, but training yourself that you deserve this on a daily basis will open you up to saying yes when your body/mind/soul is begging for help that only you can give it.
UNDISTRACTED TIME BY YOURSELF: This one is hard to get. You have to actively make it. We’ve been trained by society to be constantly stimulated, constantly entertained. The problem with this is that it locks us into thought patterns that aren’t our own, and these are much louder and closer to the surface than the quiet, deep voice that’s speaking to us from our hearts. It’s clouded our intuition, and in order to get your life going where you want it to, you have to hear what your intuition is saying. You can kind of see how this one builds directly from self-care. Self-care tells you that your internal voice is worthy of listening to, and this undistracted time by yourself gives you time to hear what it’s saying. Often times I get this from running, but I’ve noticed on this trip – when I’ve had an overabundance of undistracted time by myself – that even running is somewhat of a pattern or routine for me where I switch my brain off. So, for me, running is a good place to start, but I have to build in additional time for this as well.
DISCOMFORT*: This one will take different forms for different people (all of these will, but they will probably be most varied for this one, and they might change as you grow and evolve). Many things about travel are uncomfortable – being away from home, not understanding how things work, not speaking the language, not understanding cultural norms, being away from friends and family – I could go on. But for me, undistracted time by myself was the most uncomfortable part of the trip. It made me acutely aware of the fact that I was alone, which was probably one of my biggest fears. Well, setting off on a 3-month journey by yourself is certainly a way to confront that discomfort (when I go, I go hard). What I realized is that I am actually totally fine alone. Sometimes better than fine. Sometimes I prefer it. Realizing that has opened me up to saying no to relationships that are causing pain rather than growth. There’s also a great sense of accomplishment when you realize that you actually can handle the discomfort. I can’t count the number of times on this trip that I thought “I’m doing it – I’m actually doing it” and then got a huge smile on my face. We are much stronger than we know. It’s nice to have a reminder about that.
These three ideas aren’t necessarily a magic recipe for self-discovery. They’re probably going look a little different from person to person, you may need each of them to a greater or lesser degree, and there may be some additional things you need. But I think these are a good starting place that will help you get there.
*I can’t take credit for this one solely on my own. This articulation of the idea of “sitting with the discomfort” comes from Pema Chödrön’s book Start Where You Are. I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning about what a Buddhist practice can bring to your life.
Check out this post to start Joy’s journey from the beginning.
For more from Joy, check out her Know Your Worth interview.
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