I never imagined the crazy making nature of transitioning between SE Asia and the United States. Talk about neuroplasticity in action! I’m not sure which is more strange ….
Ho-hum. Another cloudless day at the beach. Another spectacular sunrise, beautiful waterfall, towering temple. Another cascade of fragrant frangipani blooms. How can I possibly find myself unsatisfied by it all? Downright irritable, in fact, in the midst of one of the most sought-after vacation spots in the world?
The latest learning from my Big Life Pause has been a lesson in Hedonic adaptation.
What a great month at home in Portland, Oregon! I got to see so many wonderful friends and had an absolute blast sharing my escapades as a global nomad. I felt a little badass for a minute there, telling everyone about trekking Tigers in Nepal, Scuba Diving in Bali. It all sounds very glamorous over cocktails.
But authenticity requires a little full disclosure. As I reflect on my first “back and forth” trip home, there are some points to note.
An Explosive Pause
First off, my Big Life Pause is actually looking a lot more like an Old Life Explosion. Not so Zen as I imagined at the outset of my “off the grid” plan, this Pause is life upside-down. My first 8 weeks of travel allowed me to pull back from habituated cultural norms and begin to build a life that is uniquely supportive of my personal needs.
So, What Does That Look Like?
When I wake up in freak out mode, asking myself “What the hell am I doing out here wandering the globe all alone!?!” …. I remember that I have 3 primary goals:
Physical: Support functional healing and conserve physical capacity
These legs and hips require regular work to maintain function, and that function will inevitably diminish over time. I want to slow the degeneration curve and make the most of what I’ve got while I’ve got it. Arranging my days around walking, swimming, physical therapy, yoga and meditation means that self care is job #1, not something that gets worked in between everything else.
Financial: Minimize expenses
It costs a whole lot less to rest and recover on your rump in SE Asia than it does in most places around the world. My total monthly expenses in Bali – food, lodging, transportation and entertainment – total just over half the cost of my previous rent in the US. Knowing that my nest egg is earning interest while my periods of work at home are funding my travel is a huge stress relief and wellbeing bonus.
Emotional: Have a Damn Good Time
I’ve become a late life yes girl. Climb the tree branch out over the river to see the Rhinos? YES! Take a 10’ jump off the top of the dive boat? YES! Go play with Whale Sharks off Komodo Island? YES!
It’s thrilling to put yourself out there in the world and see what happens. I continue to be astonished at the fabulous people and opportunities for connection that flow through my days. Not that it’s always a joyride. In fact, all that walking, swimming, yoga, physical therapy and meditation can make for a lot of alone time. But in between, I’m doing my best to live my best.
A Better Way
I admit that my entire Pause experiment is a reflection of privilege, and I’m incredibly grateful for all that I’m learning along the way. I’ve benefitted from 58 years of good fortune and a robust US economy. And I’m thrilled to be returning to back in 10 weeks to support corporate wellbeing for Columbia Sportswear, a wonderful, family owned company founded in Portland, Oregon in 1938. I am one lucky lady.
I’m just here to say, life is better with more Pause. Give it a try: Slower, simpler, kinder. Less doing and more being. Consider a conscious decision to pull into the slow lane, one Pause at a time.
Think about it as you enjoy the upcoming summer season. How can you inject some Pause into your life to meet the unique needs of your heart, mind and body?
Until next time – drop me a line at SB@suzannebigelow.com and let me know what you think!
How does it really feel to be a global nomad?
Now 6 weeks in to my Big Life Pause, I’m surprised to find myself already heading home again. Eager to return for a little work and family time, I’m also reflective after this first round of globetrotting – what exactly have I learned out here?
When I sold all my belongings and left for SE Asia I was all in for a life of slow travel. Living the dream, making the leap. The reality is that this Pause has included both the best of times and the worst of times.
Logistics: What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know …
In making the loop from Portland, OR to Bali (Ubud, Pemuteron, Changgu and Sanur) to Singapore and then Nepal (Kathmandu, Nepalganj and Bardia). That’s a lot of territory to cover, and has been a resiliency practice of its own. From humidity to dust and everything in between, each transition requires attention to plane reservations, lodging, Visa requirements, banking and phone service.
The experience of country hopping has taught me that yes, travel is hard work. Outside of the Insta moments, there is plenty of grumpiness and discomfort. Technical difficulties, times when I’m too tired to make a sane decision or should have done more research up front. As someone inclined to “seat of her pants” travel, I’m steadily learning the benefit of a little level-headed planning to avoid general wear and tear.
Neural Plasticity in Motion
This morning, I can see that I’ve actually learned quite a lot. I now know to hit the ATM machine at the airport, use Grab or GOJEK for online taxi service, and remember that Google maps works anywhere in the world. In the moment online research can save your hide, and managing electronics is a priority. I finally have all the cords and adapters to keep my gear charged, and know to alert the bank and credit card company every time I move to avoid declined transactions.
My brain is benefiting from all that adaptation, growing new neural pathways, staying flexible as I navigate each new challenge. It’s like learning to spot all the animals that blend into Bardia National Park – you start off blind, but by the end of the day your eyes are already finding the subtle movement of spotted deer in the brown grass, can tell the difference between the Bee Eater and the Kingfisher.
Get a Grip: Faith, Ox Carts and Hand Plows
Despite all the lonely hours, all the uncertainty and ineptitude, the weekly wakeup waves of “where am I and what have I done with my life?!?”, I truly am having the time of my life.
It feels pretty fabulous to be doing things I’ve always wanted to do, like Scuba in Bali and Tiger Trek in Nepal. To know that I am making the most of this one wild and precious life by opening up to experience and trusting in Outrageous Openness. I’m incredibly grateful for my practice, for the ability to Pause and re-center no matter where I am. And I never for one minute forget how privileged I am to be able to travel. This morning I’m sitting next to family farm plots recently plowed by teams of Oxen, in preparation for hand planting the monsoon season rice crops.
The Heart of Travel
But the most memorable moments along the way have been heartfelt moments of connection. Both awe-inspiring moments of connection to nature and wonderful kindness and authentic transparency from people everywhere I go. The coming out story of an Asian man, the healing touch of a Shamanic practitioner in Singapore, the mindset discussion with a nature guide who survived severe burns at 5 days old and then a Tiger attack at the age of 35.
People are people, and good people are everywhere. A genuine smile is the most valuable travel accessory I’ve got. An open heart and a level head is the optimal travel state.
With gratitude from the great beyond - Suzanne
What happens when life doesn’t deliver as planned? When you travel half way around the world for personal retreat, but instead of transformational enlightenment you’re faced with a monkey mind wracked by boredom, discomfort, confusion and distress?
I was about 16 days into my time in Thailand when I realized I was counting down the days, when the thrill of adventure was replaced by increasing physical discomfort and mental agitation. Following is my 3 step adversity reset plan, along with my Pre-Gratitude approach to New Year's planning.
1. “No matter where you go, there you are"
Sure, I knew I was bringing the same old me into retreat. A human brain wired for comfort and certainty, an ego-driven preference for action, a boatload of unconscious expectation. I knew I had the same old stress prone brain, but it wasn't
But, it wasn't until the third day of holing up in my room streaming Netflix that I had to admit things weren't going as planned. I was not so much Zen as zoned out, caught in a repeating cycle of discomfort and distraction. Aversion and escape intermixed with bouts crazy thinking.
So I did a "name it to tame it" and called myself out on my own distress. Which proves to be a good first step, as current research shows acknowledgement (affect labeling) actually turns down the volume on neural distress.
2. Avoid Salt in the Wound
l was not having fun. Flitting from bed to bench to beach to motorbiking, my agitated search for physical comfort escalated along with my annoyance at everything. My discontent over rudimentary furnishings, cigarette smoke in the dining area and sand fleas on the beach were only fueling the fire of my malcontent.
I realized that my desire for things to be different was adding to my own unhappiness, like salt in a wound. It was time for surrender. I had to drop the struggle and accept exactly where I was in the moment -- discomfort, displeasure and all.
So I surrendered to self care and inertia, trusting that "doing nothing" was exactly what was supposed to happen on this particular retreat. I reminded myself that circumstances always change over time, that my achy body and pissy attitude truly wouldn't last forever, no matter how it felt in the moment. I also soothed my inner perfectionist by recalling, daily, the wisdom of my teacher Richard Miller: "In every moment, each of us is doing the very best that we can. Otherwise, things would be different." My own best efforts during this trying time were all that were required. Good enough was enough.
It's true that surrender brings relief. Letting go of the fruitless push to control allowed me to physically and mentally relax back, finding some measure of comfort before heading into the long journey home.
3. Dose the Critic with Kindness
Wedged into economy seating with 2 blankets, three pillows and a sacral strap, boredom quickly took a backseat to discomfort about halfway into a grueling commute home.
It was after several hours of moderate success with distraction (audio, video, meditation, stretch, repeat) that I noticed the nature of my internal dialogue. "Nothing is working!" "Another 13 hours and 2 more flights?!?" “If I were a master of mindfulness, I’d have this under control”
What a mean and critical soundtrack was looping though my brainspace! Surprisingly unkind and definitely not helpful, I remembered the power of Kristen Neff's Mindful Self Compassion Breaks and spent the last half of my return reminding myself that hardship wasn't my unique punishment and now was the time to replace the critic's dialogue with kind gesture and compassionate thought. Whew. Another science based remedy that works, increasing levels of oxytocin and feelings of trust, calm, safety, and connectedness. From Seoul to Seattle, these practices shifted by physiology and facilitated an increase in own self compassion.
New Year's Resolution? More Carrot, Less Stick
So what next? I returned to an inbox full of advice on New Year's resolutions, along with a nasty headcold and a screwy sleep schedule. It all felt like more strive than thrive, and was the perfect place to begin my annual Pre-Gratitude list, a personal practice 3 years in the running and still under refinement.
Once again, I used the foundational concept of heartfelt desire as a starting point. I like setting my direction based on increasing overall joy, and feel the power of identifying those places where I want to soften and let go to mitigate my own suffering. This year's list is once again fore carrot and less stick, with just enough ambiguity for grace.
Unfortunately, in comparing my 2017 and 2018 lists, I found a lot of overlap and not much evidence of forward movement. Progress was made, to be sure, but it was a bit too nebulous for satisfaction. So my 2019 Pre-Gratitude list is a combination of both big ideas and incremental SMART goals to tangibly guide my progress.
My 2019 resolution is to make a plan and work the plan, to trust and adjust, to live every day with self compassion and accountability. Stay tuned for quarterly revisions and list updates over the coming year, and consider sharing your experience.
Drop me a line. How do reset from adversity? What do you do for annual direction setting? Do you have a successful strategy for staying kind to yourself while sticking with the slow process of real personal change? Email me at Sb@peoplespause.com and let me know!