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An update from my heart, from a plane over the Atlantic

Dear friends,

Why, hello there! Here goes. Today is the first day of my leaving San Francisco with no return date in mind, with plans only for the next 23 days. I carry one autumn green 48-liter backpack filled with belongings I have packed and repacked into bright orange storage cubes. I have left my computer behind, and in its place is one small notebook and this phone. I am typing this note in the middle seat of the middle section of row 25, with two empty seats as my companions.

My body is on the upswing from an unexpected cold: my nose is congested and body weary. And my mind is not quite settled, racing from Duolingo to trivia to dinner options.

My heart is trembling. At 28 years old, watching my friends settle into stable jobs and relationships, I am afraid that I’ve missed a secret to life. Maybe I have misplayed the game until now: I’ve optimized for exploration, experimenting with new careers, a new spiritual path, new ways of knowing my body and my emotions. And yet I am here, with no markers of societal success to my name.

I’m no longer the favored confidant or travel buddy of friends with significant others; I do not have the most prestigious career or make the most money. I do not have a committed romantic relationship. I do not even have inner peace all (or most) of the time!

My mind yearns to restart the imaginary game, to read the instruction manual again, to ask more skilled players where I went askew.

I understand looking back how I tumbled out this way: my ambition and passion for travel writing led to founding a tech company post-college, which introduced me to yoga and meditation as a means of self-care. I see how the innovation and creativity of tech drew me to learn to code, and how the joy of problem-solving and logic kept me there. I see how my own questioning — about my purpose, my relationships, even my sexuality — led me to the Buddhist path and shaped my choices to stay in that environment, to teach and to invest there.

So practically, I get how I arrived here, heading to Plum Village and the Camino de Santiago on a spiritual and personal quest, searching for what gives life its meaning and how I can best actualize this meaning. I suppose there is no other reckoning than this sort of practical understanding of cause and effect applied at scale for all of the decisions in my life.

And yet the judgment and questions remain: how did I get here? Why this path? Why leave everything I know and love? If the meaning of life is simple, to love and love well — a good hypothesis — why not just stay in San Francisco and make it work?

All I can say for now is: I know no other path to which I can commit. This is the path.

While in residence at Green Gulch, a Zen teacher challenged me to experience temple life as a monk with just a first name. No attachments to identities cultivated in the wild outside world, no particular talents or leadership goals. Just a person experiencing the moment to be experienced, feeling joy, feeling sorrow. I chafed at this request. How could it be possible to do this ever, to let go of what makes you you?

And yet as I head to Plum Village, I feel in my body this sense of being free of my past identities, just a human being with a backpack. I am groundless, a balloon untied to the ground just floating into the atmosphere. I don’t like the feeling: it is uncomfortable and lonely. Some moments the thought of dying flickers in for a moment. Without identity, without anything that gives me value by virtue of what I do, what I have done, what is it that I live for?

And that brings me back to where I started. Why am I here? Why am I leaving? I may be trying to escape the endless repetition of 9–5 life (no matter how wonderful the job or my coworkers). I may be afraid to start another relationship as I approach 30, with all of the societal expectations there. There is fear in committing to something at home, this is true.

And yet I am heading towards Plum Village and Santiago, motivated by my own curiosity to discover organically what is next, to let my intuition and heart decide instead of strategizing every move. I am going because I think it will draw me closer to understanding what I wish to commit to. I am not running from all commitment: in truth, I am looking for it. For the kind of commitment I can make with a full heart and clear mind, all pieces of my body saying YES this is the next thing.

I’m trying to find how all of my passions — writing, creative expression, code, mindfulness, empathy studies, yoga, farming, business strategy, startups, teaching — how they all fit together in some beautiful amorphous blob. How can I contribute something of unique value in this world? I’m trying to place myself in an infinitely diverse world.

To be clear, I do not say this to paper over my fear of falling behind in the game of life. Those fears are pervasive and arise often in my mind (I could write a whole lot more on the practice of comparison — it’s a note for another time!)

I say this to remind myself that I am making forward progress, that dedicating myself to finding a direction that aligns with my heart and embraces all of me is a path and commitment of its own.

It’s getting late on the plane; dinner service has long ended and lights are dimmed. Until next time — bonne nuit!

P.S. I credit the single French phrase to my Duolingo practice.

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I like to make things and tell stories.

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