Awareness Is a Beautiful Thing

After republishing my first blog post last week about burning out and embarking on my Pit Stop, I’m sharing the next entry from my private journals. This one is from the very beginning of my 12+ months on the road, detaching completely from my work life and career.

One of my only regrets about my life in NYC was that by working and living at such a frantic pace, I rarely took notice of the moments right in front of me. I’d either have a constant preoccupation with something that needed to be done or a nagging feeling like there’s something else I should be doing. I’d rarely go more than a few minutes without glancing at my iPhone, refreshing my inbox, and reminding myself of all the things that were stressing me out. I always seemed to be “somewhere else” and it pains me to think about all the moments and connections that I let slip by because of it.

My workdays would be jammed full and nearly every night after leaving the office, I’d have drinks, dinners and/or other engagements booked. The weekends were a blend of big nights out and lethargic recovery days where I’d try to fit in workouts in the small window between lying on my couch hungover and getting ready to go out again. All the while, I’d be glued to my iPhone, trying not to let the unread email and messages stack up too much while mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds. Rarely would I have time to myself, though in reflecting back, those who shared their time with me certainly didn’t get my full attention either. I was stuck in a way of life that was most definitely enjoyable at times, but never gave me a chance to untangle my mind and appreciate the moment.

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After things fell apart in the UK, I felt even more like a shell of my former self. Upon finalizing my exit, I had a flight to Seattle booked for a friend’s wedding so I made the long trip hoping it would help lift me out of my melancholy. I was still undecided about leaving everything behind to travel, but I thought I’d test the waters by taking a solo road trip down to Petaluma, CA, to visit my parents. It was my first real attempt at detachment so I wanted to go all in. I bought a cheap tent and sleeping bag, rented a car, and headed South on the infamous Interstate 5. I spent the next few days driving through some of the most beautiful landscape in the country, hiking, reading, and camping under the stars. A couple of days into the road trip, my mental fog began to clear, even if only for a few moments.

I was on a short hike through Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. Stout Grove is a special place because due to annual flooding, it’s one of the only places you can see the massive redwoods without excessive underbrush. The weather was perfect and the colossal trees towered out of the ground with incredible vastness and density, but I still walked through the forest agitatedly with my mind churning away; How long is it going to take to get to Crescent City from here? How am I going to deal with taxes this year if I’m traveling? What would I need to pack?

Stout Grove

Then, as I continued walking through the darkened forest, I suddenly stopped in my tracks, tingles crawled up my back and all my other thoughts vanished. I looked up at these magical ancient giants that have endured way more than I ever have or will and was completely overcome by a feeling of presence and stillness. For the first time on the road trip, I heard birds chirping, I heard insects buzzing, I heard a river running in the distance, and I heard leaves blowing in the wind. I looked up and saw streaks of light flowering out of the thick trees, stemming from the bright sun. As I stood there in awe, I felt tears roll down my cheeks, recognizing that I was finally at peace. I had broken out of the tangled mess that was my brain while simply taking in the beauty that surrounded me. The moment was short lived and I quickly reverted back to my mental churn, but as I reflected on that moment later, I realized that it was awareness; something that had become so foreign.

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I’m still trying to get my head around my own interpretation of awareness and how I may be able to achieve more of it in my life. Awareness for me seems to be evolving, but as I’ve paid more attention to it, the moments have become more and more frequent. I’m trying to take notice of my surroundings; the sounds, smells, and smaller details. If my mind is over-occupied, I do my best to take a step back and just observe my surroundings. I try to feel the sun on my skin, hear the music singing from cafes, notice the reflections and shadows around me, all of which helps ground me, albeit for only a few seconds. If I can bring this perspective and practice back with me, wherever I land next, I’ll be a better man for it, for myself and hopefully those around me.

Awareness is a beautiful thing.

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