Working Hard & Letting Go

Currently we are stationed in an amazing “small town with a big backyard” on the Eastern slopes of the Sierra. It’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking. It’s also frustrating. It’s also boring. Commitment to a life out of the norm (i.e. in a gracefully aging van without the glamorized niceties seen at #vanlife) has not turned my days into a nonstop string of romantic, playful adventures filled with ease and positivity. Not that I thought it would.

Okay, well maybe I did a little. Mostly not though – really! I did however hope to open up space in my head for some clarity on life, be more available to new experiences and, well, admittedly just magically discover who I am, what I want to be when I grow up, why I am here and how can I help the Universe. Without needing any money. Avoiding any hint of winter weather. Oh, and also to build a super-strong, unbreakable, energetic body to carry me through another vigorous 43 years of endurance adventures.

A decision to truly create your own dream life, and the follow through, is hard work. In my case, certain discomforts were expected. For instance, I knew daily showers were overrated, I had plenty of experience with using the bathroom responsibly in the great outdoors, and I was surprisingly excited for the challenge of living in a small space with another person. Plus, I had identified what I did NOT want many years ago. Although I was married in my twenties, bought a house, held standard 8-5 corporate jobs, I knew that the supposed “comfort” of a stable life was not comfortable for me. So for a good eight years I quit all that. I thought I was “letting go” of expectations and archetypes. I was a rebel! I still worked. I wasn’t a bum. But also, I still wasn’t living the dream that “letting go” was supposed to lead to. I was too scared 1) that the dream wasn’t attainable and 2) to work hard.

There’s plenty of advice out there to release attachments and expectations. That in itself is hard work. It feels like a constant struggle managing thoughts. Is my desire for that cookie an attachment to sugar? Do I want to sign up for that ultramarathon because I just love running in the mountains or because I’m expecting to crush the competition? Have I unattached or detached? These are two very different things. Once I was told by an employer that he hired me despite the clear detachment I expressed during my interview. The comment made me feel really bad. I realized I was living my whole life detached. It’s why I never made friends easily, why I didn’t get picked up in bars, and why I didn’t experience financial success. The energy I exuded separated me from the world. I thought that by purposefully not caring what people thought about me, or by rejecting the need for money I was unattached to the material world and thereby free to enjoy the simplicities of life and all the spiritual wealth the Universe has to offer.

Nothing can be forced, receptivity is everything.
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

Sort of. I mean, there is awesome reward in choosing to be yourself despite how others might judge. And, I do not believe that a large income and expensive things will make me happy. By not allowing myself to connect with others I was really just protecting myself from my fear that I wouldn’t fit in, that I wouldn’t get hired, that I wouldn’t be liked. I was attached to the expectation that I was undeserving. Similarly, I believed I was not worthy of an appropriate income and scared that the work required to make more money would keep me from all the fun I wanted to have. Detachment closes us off to experiences, blessings and growth. Non-attachment allows us to be open to opportunities even if we aren’t sure where they will lead. Often it requires a lot – A LOT – of hard work. Actual get-your-hands-dirty hard labor to sustain ourselves in the physical world and continued, earnest practice in our minds to change our thought patterns.

This leads to my persistent dilemma that I refused to face. There seems to be a frustrating paradox in just allowing things to unfold but also working hard, because usually that hard work is focused on a goal. But, we aren’t supposed to have expectations about the outcome of our work… right? This thinking has gotten me nowhere so far. Rather, it paralyzes me into non-action, leading to financial, experiential and physical stagnation. I’ve yet to find any truly satisfying answers to this, but over the last few months I have lost a lot of the self inflicted pressure to produce something or be somebody. My increased commitment to yoga practice has, somewhat regrettably but gratefully, come out of a rough, depressive patch and in response to an injured body. More time on my mat and re-study of basic yogic philosophy brings peace to where I am right now, enjoyment to daily work and respect for my Self. I can not force a physical asana on my mat; the more I force, the more my body tenses and the more it fights the intended position. I can, however, focus on what is best for my body today and create just a little more space for future movement. The arm balance I want to be a able to do won’t come without committed work, but it also won’t come if that is all I’m hoping to get out of my practice.

So, back to our temporary stay in this tiny but wildly inspiring town and our intermittent disgruntlement with it. I believe we knew when we started out on what I’m calling our “migratory life” that we were not detaching from the world. We actually wanted to reattach. We wanted to reconnect with the land, with real people and with our personal convictions and dreams. Besides all those modest (and some unrealistic) goals mentioned earlier, I know I was actually pretty unattached to our itinerary or where I would end up after the year we planned to be on the road. Along the way we have definitely had to put in some hard work, which is my biggest lesson in all this. It is frustrating that we’ve had to abort the migration for a time because of the darn need for money, and the work we accepted here is boring, for sure. I’m pouring wine and cleaning frozen yogurt machines. Paul is hunched over his computer dealing with remote clients too many hours a day. Each morning I wake to the OMG-it’s-so-f*ing-amazing Sierra range is right here in my face… but still too snowy to justify driving the van up to explore. Also, we’ve already used up May’s gas budget. We are talking and planning and scheming daily about our long term path, understanding that we might end up somewhere we don’t expect but sticking with both our intentional, soulful work and the necessary financially fruitful work for now.

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