I don’t know exactly where I’m headed.
I’ve gotten used to telling people “I’m getting in my car, and volunteering my way around the country”. I do believe that much to be true. But a specific itinerary? A list of must-see’s and must-do’s? The new-agey “clear positive future vision” pulling me forward? Nope. Mostly the misty mystery of the vast unknown.
Approximately the next week is known – it begins with a drive to help someone I love move from L.A. to Portland. The car is loaded with all our stuff, and we’re en route now. After that, there’s a few key special events and scattered reunions with other loved ones in the coming months, but mostly open time, for following the pull of the wind.
Today, on this first day out of Los Angeles, I’m amazed at the power of leaving.
Todo lists and the endless attempt to secure the future are suddenly replaced with a resurgence of wonder. I’m suddenly compelled to find art in the scenes around me, and document the day in pictures for friends “back home”. I want to share metaphors for living that present themselves in the sights passing by the car windows. There’s a little burning in my belly to actually write for my blog.
My dear travel companion and I spent the last several hours listening to an audiobook1 about the lives of our prehistoric ancestors, while watching the central coast’s curvy golden hillsides roll by. It spoke of the naturalness of leaving, and struck me as fittingly “coincidental”, that I should hear these words, while feeling this rush in my own psyche.
They were refuting a philosophical essay that could have been describing contemporary Los Angeles: “…As numbers swell, individuals will have no alternative to compete more and more desperately for dwindling resources”2. I think that’s the way of life and work that many of us have been conditioned to see as “normal”. Work harder. Work longer. Live paycheck to paycheck. Apparently this essay was asserting that humans have always been this way. But the audiobook’s authors weren’t buying it. Their words gave courage and validation to my freshly energized state, arguing that our nomadic ancestors wouldn’t have stuck around to fight… that, they’d have just moved on. In their words:
“Walking away is what they did best”.
If this is true, our prehistoric ancestors had one comforting advantage: when they moved on, they took their entire community with them.
18 months ago, when preparing for my first adult “sabbatical”, leaving into the unknown was terrifying. I was (I thought) leaving behind my long term romantic relationship, leaving my business in the control of others, and trying to get as far away from my known world as possible. I had several epic breakdowns in the months leading up to that leave, and one record breaking day of 6 sobbing attacks of the fear worries. Ultimately, I turned to my blog and instagram account as a future carrot to attach to: I didn’t know what was coming next, but I could certainly work to build a lifestyle brand out of it. I could bring all the todo lists and self expectations and clamour for productivity with me!
And then I sacrificed my iPhone to the Gods at a water temple, because that all felt gross.
This time, I didn’t prop a new business idea in front of my face, to distract me from the discomfort of the unknown. I still had some smaller fear shake-downs in advance , but the actual act of leaving has snapped me into a state of aliveness. Paradoxically, I’ve spoken of this chapter as just “checking out of society for a while”, but now there’s this sudden energy to engage. To produce. To share. This time, leaving is causing me to pull my community closer. No carrot needed.
I still don’t have any real sense of what I’m headed to, but I suppose I know better what I want to keep close. It’s not productivity. It seems to be, corny as it sounds, love. I feel closer to my SoCal-based parents now than maybe ever before. I have a new precious romance that snuck up on me, but my cellphone and postage stamps will help me keep burning close at heart. My long term partner in crime welcomes my comings and goings in his new Pacific Northwest homebase. There are clear plans for when I’ll next see many of my Los-Angeles based friends, throughout the summer.
Last year, I didn’t know how to walk away well yet, because I didn’t know what I was walking away from. I left behind home, but brought along my sense of responsibility for far too many outcomes. This time, I’m walking away from the fear-based need to control. Somehow, love and wonder and creativity stowed away in my backpack when I wasn’t looking. I’d say it’s all going surprisingly well.
I think this means I’m getting better at walking away.
I guess my ancestors would be proud.
1: Sex At Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
2: the words of philosopher David Livingstone Smith’s essay “Why War”