Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Not Searching for Happiness

 "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full or argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

- Mary Oliver, from her poem: When Death Comes

For so long, safety and stability have been the organizing structures of my life. Even as I pursue far-reaching goals and generative experiences, I've relied upon the ground beneath my feet to be unchanging. But lately, as the world around us appears to mirror the uncertainty of plans and the inevitability of change, I've noticed a new longing emerging at my roots. There is a part of me that yearns to feel untethered. 

11 years ago, I asked my boyfriend (Ryan) if he was interested in moving to Colorado with me. Fortunately he too felt the magnetism of the mountains and we began a new adventure together. Fresh out of college with mountains of student loans, we spent our first 3 years in a tiny basement studio apartment, and we paid more attention to what we did have than what we didn't. The wide open spaces encouraged us to breath more deeply. We felt both softened by the beauty of the land, and hardened as we carved out the edges of who we were, in particular. 

This past August, I went to San Diego to stay with Julie and train for the Ironman World Championship. Partway through our training camp, when we heard the news that the race was canceled, I recognized that I was there for a different reason. I changed my flight and stayed 2 extra days by myself, with the ocean. I asked the universe for clarity and I knew the answer in my body almost immediately, but I didn't know it in my mind until I returned home. Back in Colorado, the distance between my heart and the ocean had become explicit.  

I never used to "ask the Universe" for anything. Ever since I emerged from the soul-imprisonment of 9 years in Catholic School, I relied on nothing but my own will and determination to create the life of my dreams. I needed to prove to myself that I didn't need a guiding light - for lack of a better way to describe it. And I did that. I did the proving. The harder part was knowing when it was over and putting down my defenses.

What I've taught myself to do is to create a bridge between an old way of being and a new one with habits and practices that fill my cup and keep me afloat while the bridge is under construction. I write. I journal. I ask questions and I leave them open ended. I give myself space to put the most raw truth on paper so I can get it out of my body and it doesn't try to trick me into believing that it's scarier than it really is. It's this practice of excavating truth that has led me to my heart: the wisdom keeper. 

Every day, I renew my vow to my heart that I will pay attention to the edges. I vow to resist the devastatingly seductive urge to push away the messages that I don't feel equipped to handle or the ones that I know will lead to some sort of open-ended change. My agreement is only to pay attention. I can handle knowing about the rough edges because I've committed myself to knowing the soft ones too. 

In return for my listening, my heart teaches me about what is most true in each moment. It speaks over any conditioning which might try to fool me into believing that comfort is a higher priority than truth. 

I am happy in Colorado. Happy enough, perhaps. But while I was in California and I asked the universe for clarity, I knew that I would have to uphold my end of the bargain and truly be open to clarity - not just clarity that lives inside a box of how much change I've predetermined that I'm willing to make. That's not how it works with hearts. Shortly after, I wrote in my journal that I'm ready to live near the ocean.

When I told Ryan, he took a deep breath the way he always does when he recognizes that I'm speaking from my heart, and he started making the plans. He has never been afraid of my most raw truths and he has never shied away from their potential implications. I don't know how rare this is but I do know how special it is. 

We (Ryan) planned a 2+ week road trip, starting with Ironman California. It went a little something like this:

10/19: 11ish hour drive to Elko, Nevada, which is a town that has a dog-friendly Marriott and a gas station and is more than halfway to Sacramento. When the excited women at the front desk asked us what brought us to Elko, we didn't know what to say.

Ralph is a road trip pro.

10/20: 6ish hour drive to Sacramento for Ironman California. 

10/20 - 10/23: The days that precede an Ironman are all the exact same day meshed into one where basically nothing happens except for the relentless waiting for the gun to go off.

10/24: There was a bomb cyclone in Sacramento and the gun never actually went off. See this blog post. I ran a marathon instead. It was sad and slow.

10/25: 6ish hour drive from Sacramento to Pismo Beach, where we had planned to recover for a few days post Ironman. Along the drive, we kept our minds and our hearts open for a new place to be from. We stopped in Santa Cruz, fell in love with Carmel-by-the-Sea, and were mesmerized by the stunning radiance of Big Sur. In a temporary moment of cell service, we accepted an offer on our house in Colorado while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. We felt the rush of being untethered, the reality that the countdown to our homelessness had just begun, and the safety of relying on nothing but each other.

Pismo Beach was the first time our dogs had ever experienced the ocean. It was the place that held our transition between belonging to Colorado and belonging to a new place. While we were there, we belonged only to ourselves. 

10/27: Another amount of hours drive from Pismo Beach to North County, San Diego. At first, we mostly felt fear and discomfort. But I've been speaking to my heart for long enough to know that those signs are my guideposts. As far as I know, discomfort is the only path to growth. 

One thing that I've learned about hearts is that they are the first to speak - before thoughts, before judgment, before analysis or rationality. It is tempting to dismiss the message because it gets covered up so quickly. That's why I write it down. Otherwise it gets lost in fear and rationality and I am tempted to convince myself that what I felt wasn't real.

We spent a few days looking at houses and we took a break to cheer on our NYX Endurance teammates at 70.3 Oceanside. We felt hopeful.  

Luna settled right into her cheering spot at 70.3 Oceanside.


10/31: We put in an offer on a house that we loved and we drove 7 hours to Sedona. We crossed our fingers and wanted to believe that it would be this easy. But underneath our hope was something stronger and more lasting. We believed that it would work out the way it was supposed to, not necessarily the way we had envisioned. And we trusted more in the uncertainty than we did in our plans. 

11/1: We didn't get that house. More importantly, it was our 7 year wedding anniversary and we were in one of our favorite places in the world. 

The desert is where I remember. Not the kind of remembering that lives inside thoughts and comes attached to stories, but the kind that is stored inside my bones. I remember nothing specific but everything essential. I remember why I am searching, and that I am searching. I feel the connection to the thing that is searching for me too - searching through me, with me, for me when I'm tired, for me when I forget. It is all so clear in the desert.  

I knew I wouldn't be able to put an offer down on another house without seeing it in person, and we both acknowledged the uncertainty of what would happen next. Old stories tried to convince us that listening to our hearts and taking risks was a bad idea, but we were already too fiercely committed to the flow and to taking the world in our arms.

11/2: We made the last long 12+ hour drive back to Colorado. Back to a home that no longer belonged to us. The tension in my body was forcing me to acknowledge that I had put us in this situation, forcing me to answer: Why do I think I'm worthy of pursuing more than happiness? I should be grateful. I can't even provide a rational explanation for why I led us here. 

My heart doesn't privy me to the explanations. It simply sends a message and asks me if I'm brave enough to listen. Brave enough to step into the unknown for a feeling I can't make sense of. But when I don't listen, my life becomes more and more out of alignment. Everything starts to feel forced. The colors begin to dull. And worst of all, if I don't listen, my heart will slowly stop speaking to me. What good is a voice without an ear to receive it?

I'm not leaving Colorado because there is something lacking for me here. As far as I can tell, grass is always green; unless of course, it's dying. 

It was easy to leave the east coast, we knew there was nothing for us there. But Colorado is the place where we became a family of 2 humans and 2 dogs. We got married here. Built our lives together here. We learned from the mountains that stillness can be just as powerful as movement.   

Moving on is not an escape but an inevitability; everything changes. Making space for change also requires making space for grief. That's why so few of us choose it. But I am not searching for happiness, so I have room in my heart for grief. 

I want to know what exists at the bottom of the well. I want to carve away everything that isn't the essence of me. I am a digger. What I'm searching for is underneath, not above. I want to know what is under the surface. I am willing to hold my breath for long enough to witness something under the surface that may not have appeared a moment earlier - something that needed me to prove that I wanted it more than I wanted air to breath. I'm searching for something simple. The revelations that take my breath away are always the ones that I knew all along, that we all knew, but have forgotten - things we may have even known in our thoughts but have forgotten in our hearts. 

11/3: We remembered that there was another house that we had liked while we were in San Diego, so we put an offer down without expecting anything to happen. Later that evening, our offer was accepted. 

Flow cannot happen when we resist change. We resist because we think only about the bad things. What could go wrong? Too often we forget to ask, what could go right? When I take action in alignment with my heart, I feel the saltwater of my body start to flow more freely. I feel my skin begin to vibrate in a new way - in an old way, that I think I might vaguely remember. When I listen to my heart, I know I won't end up simply having visited this world. 


  1. Our pull to Colorado this year came from a yearning for freedom as well - and we didn't get the first house we wanted so much - but the house we found right before we had to head to the airport? It's ours and it is a much better house for us <3 It works out the way it's supposed to, not always the way we think it should- and often, the way we think it should limits us! Big news, big change, and you embrace it!

    1. I was with Julie when you were making those decisions and wearing your “big girl panties” on the climb up to Ward. I meant to tell you earlier that I was so inspired by you and the way you were so in flow with your life.

  2. Love this . . . and love you!! miss you and I WILL come visit.


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