Almost two years ago I was able to fulfill one of my long-awaited dreams, I turned thirty in one of the most beautiful places in the world. For many years leading up to my thirtieth birthday I was convinced that Italy was my favorite place on earth, if only I could get there. I knew that was already in love with this place and I knew that was exactly where I wanted to spend the first days of my unfolding third decade.
Realizing this dream was a game changer. This experience didn’t magically transform my irritatingly mundane life, but her for a moment I experienced the pure joy of life being exactly what you dreamed. The trouble with moments like this is their brevity. Eventually we all go back to that same life we left behind for just a week or two. And its the going back with new vigor or passion that makes the leaving worth it.
I, however, never came back with new vigor or passion for my life here. I held onto the high for a little while, and tried to recapture the sensation of being in Italy. But truly the only passion I returned home with was the passion to leave that daily grind for good. But money and debt don’t work like that. You can’t just pick up and leave, no matter how many times I tried to convince myself that maybe I could. For me, returning from vacation didn’t feel like coming home, instead it felt like leaving something behind.
I felt like I was leaving behind the life I knew I always wanted to merely survive under the same drudgery I had come to know and despise. Most of you are probably thinking, what is this girl’s problem? She was just in friggin’ Italy, that’s an experience of a lifetime, can’t she just appreciate that?
Well, you are right to think and ask this. But no, I couldn’t just appreciate it. Oh sure, I told myself I would save up and get back there in a year or two. But the longing to stay there never went away. The longing for my life to look like that all the time clung to my soul and didn’t let go. It’s this longing that becomes the death of real adventure.
It is no secret that I long for my life to look so much different than it does. I know this is a desire we are all familiar with. We all have things in our lives we want to change, but the ways in which it doesn’t change are testimony to the fact that desire does not produce results. Just because we want something doesn’t mean it will happen. I know, I know I’m in my thirties shouldn’t I have already learned this? Yes, and in many ways I already had learned it.
My problem is that I still haven’t learned to stop looking ahead or behind. Life is going to happen, time passes whether you are present for it or not. We can either keep waiting for our life to change, or we can embrace the life we have and live it.
I am not suggesting that it’s easy to do, there is a certain amount of soul realigning that must happen. Our souls have a nervous system just like our bodies. Nerves help us to feel, they present sensation based on what our brain tells them. Nerves have memories and expectations that come from the brain. Sometimes what our brain expects to feel, the nerves trigger even if the sensation is not happening.
Think of anytime you’ve anticipated receiving a shot. With your eyes tightly shut, and body tensed you can actually trigger the sensation of pain without the needle being anywhere near your skin. The brain remembers what that pain felt like last time so triggers the same sensation again in anticipation of it.
Memory and expectation are just as powerful as actual reality. Experiences are driven by memory and expectation just as much as actual events and can even overshadow the occurrence itself. This is why after an amputation someone can still feel an itch in their missing limb. Over time these phantom sensations wear off because the nerves have to realign and learn new sensations. In short, the nerves that are still present learn to be present without the memory or expectation. But this takes a lot of work and reconditioning of the body.
The same is true for our souls. Learning to embrace the experiences as they happen rather than living in the past or long for the future is hard work. Living the life we have set before us is like the nerves of our souls realigning. Too often our souls are trained to hope, dream, long. Or our souls are set to remember, relive, recapture. Neither of these are healthy on their own. We need to realign our souls to breathe, enjoy, savor.
When I stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of discontentment, I find there are many adventures just waiting around the corner. When I accept my life for what it is I learn to appreciate things I didn’t know I liked about my life. I am learning to take each day as it comes and allow the adventure of that day to be its own journey. I know that if I continue to learn to pause in the present I may just find that my life can be the very thing I’ve always wanted, full of adventure.
Breathe. Enjoy. Savor.