My Journey towards an authentic life has been under way for quite a while now.
It happened October 6th, 2009.
I remember thinking, if we hit an IED and I’m sitting this way, I’ll break both of my legs. I adjusted my posture, pulling my feet underneath me, as opposed to wedged under the seat on the other side of the RG-33. I moved my weapon to my side, and gripped it just a little tighter.
Less than thirty seconds later, I was thrown violently against the seat belt straps secured across my shoulders, connecting at my navel, and I found myself thinking, “If the walls hold, I live, if they collapse, I die.”
Today was my second Bomb-Day. The second year that I’ve lived since my truck drove over a 200lb home-made explosives packed roadside bomb. Since that bomb exploded with a direct hit under the driver’s side seat of our MRAP. Since we were thrown over sixty-five meters. Since the twenty-two ton vehicle flipped ass over teakettle two and a half times.
My second year alive, with movement newly appreciated.
My second year healing, and becoming exactly who I want to become in person and spirit.
I like that person…
The person I’ve worked to become.
I am happy.
No. I am fucking excited; at peace, and ecstatic all at once.
I’ve found a passion for people, where I had been lacking before. My motto had once been, “I love dogs and horses. I tolerate people,” but now the highlights of my life have transitioned into meeting and connecting with the endless droves of amazing spirits in this world. No matter race, creed, upbringing, nor belief system, I truly believe EVERY SINGLE person I meet can teach me something about life, even indirectly. I wake up feeling amazing daily, and appreciate the fact that I’m able to push my body without yet having found its limits, that I can continue to see, breathe, feel, walk, dance, especially run. There is no anxiety, angst, nor drama in my life. I haven’t had an argument with anyone for what feels like an eternity, and even that short spat was a direct result of being locked in a car with someone for three weeks without reprieve.
Over the last two years I took the ideals by which I wanted to live, tucked them away, and poured over them intensely over days and nights alone in the wilderness. Alone in my cabin, Alone on long runs with a voice recorder. I fought the common desire to “fix” myself for others, and focused on my personal desires and my needs. I realized over time, although extremely difficult in practice and challenging to maintain without hypocrisy, complete acceptance of people with different views from your own is a lofty but completely worthy goal. I feel at this point I have mostly reached it. Not absolutely. I hate to speak in absolutes.
What are absolutes, anyway?
I admit, I catch myself every once in a while making a bold, unfounded judgement, but the beauty of my progress is: I catch it, address it, and try my best to adjust it. So, I have mostly reached it. This has relieved the vast majority of stress from my life. Accepting people’s right to hate, love, read, be bashful, abrasive, correct, incorrect, educated, uneducated, greedy, giving, clothed, naked, upset, happy, crazy, lovely, etc. has been my lofty goal.
It’s been a challenge to truly accept and grow to believe wholeheartedly, but I’d say learning to understand that thinking differently is not born from being incorrect or deficient is one of the first steps to loving yourself completely. When you learn that a person who thinks man was created by one great being with white skin, brown hair, and blue eyes is no more correct nor incorrect than a person who believes whole heartedly that Wonderbread is the most incredibly nutritious supplement to your diet, and can accept it as a mere difference in opinion as opposed to right or wrong, you’re on your way.
How can you tell somebody that something they truly believe is incorrect? How can you tell a culture because they live not how you do, that they are doing something wrong? How can you tell someone’s heart to not love the person it loves?
Time to get a sense of humor about life.
I graciously refuse to debate something about which I’m not certain, which I consider interesting, because certainty is fickle in itself. The few things about which I am certain are that I’m in love with me, I’m in love with a man that’s momentarily in Texas, using ten percent of the energy you’d use to complain about a situation instead to fix it will generally solve the problem completely, people are inherently good, unless the consequence is life, limb, or eyesight, rushing is generally not necessary, and one should never try to change a single cell of another human being.
I’ve found myself understanding that I own nothing and nobody, and I’m absolutely unwilling to be possessed. I’m much more comfortable in complete, long periods of solitude, and I find myself seeking them often, nearly every day, to make sure that I’m connecting with the little girl inside without the distractions of socializing. I no longer feel a need for extrinsic praise, congratulations, or credit for the things I do. I’ve gotten to a point where impressing others means absolutely nothing to me. I showered yesterday for the first time in almost two weeks, and before that it had been another two and a half weeks.
Living in Alaska as a rafting guide will do that to you.
I’ve worked towards ceasing judgement based on any physical standards (there, of course, are gut reactions that betray me periodically, and the new mission is to squelch them.) I’ve found what I like about myself, and have worked to grow much stronger in those traits. I’d rather lose an acquaintance (not a friend because an authentic friend would never demand such) than change a part of myself to appease that person’s insecurity, and I could only hope that those around me would value themselves just as strongly and unflinchingly.
I’ve changed my hair color because I like it. It’s fun, ridiculous, and at the same time, my peacock-esque blue, green, purple hues act as a natural filter for me, keeping people who would judge me as juvenile and punk on first glance away from me. Thereby creating an existence devoid of judgemental, critical, assuming people. I sold and gave away the vast majority of my worldly possessions, moved into my back seat-less Rav4 and drove myself to this lovely town of Haines, Alaska. Most of the scant things I left behind were destroyed by the recent flooding of central PA, and so now I have truly what I brought with me and barely anything more outside of some protected paperwork and a few boxes of books.
I’ve recently noticed that checking my Facebook leaves a funny taste in my mouth; something like an unsettled stomach in place of what used to be a fun little way to contact people. It makes me wonder how people are so easily sucked into “world news” and the media’s manipulation. It’s like watching a really bad chess game unfold, and realizing you can’t point out the obvious mistakes because somebody will always get upset that you ruined their strategy. The new ticker in the right upper corner seems like a deliberate attempt at simplifying life’s activities into technology…ticking away as a reminder of every moment you waste staring at a glaring computer screen instead of living in the natural world that exists right in front of you.
I’ve grown to dislike Starbucks. I like mom and pop shops. My heart hurts if I’m ever forced to step into a mall, a Walmart, or a Canadian Superstore. I haven’t sat down and watched a full television show in Alaska yet. It’s only when I’m in the lower 48 that the sedentary convince me to sit and watch the mindless images on the screen, and even then, I seem to get too anxious to internalize it.
Newsflash: I smoke herb. Sorry if you’ve known me for much of my life or my entire life and this shocks you. Sorry if you think less of me. I’m not sorry for the fact that I enjoy pot. I’m sorry because you judged me and as a result are going to miss out on a great relationship or friendship as a result of your preconceptions. I used to be completely against alcohol and weed…not anymore. If I must work, I’ll refrain, but most evenings and whenever I have the day off, I burn. I don’t have dreams that way, but also, I really like it. I drink much more socially than I did in the past. I’ve grown comfortable with alcohol in a way I never though possible as a younger adult, and quite frankly, I love a drink in the morning, be it a mimosa or Carolans in my coffee.
Here’s where I’d naturally quip, “Don’t judge me,” but if you do, quite frankly, I don’t care.
I’ve become very comfortable with myself and my body. I do not blush if I’m seen naked. I often find myself a little irritated that clothes are even necessary in the first place. Just another law taking away a simple freedom to be comfortable in your own skin. I can’t even be naked most places if I’d like to. I’ve done some more art projects, and I see no shame in using the body for art. Those of you who are reading this who haven’t been watching the transition over the last two years are probably shocked. Those of you who’ve paid attention might be thrilled.
I haven’t worn a watch since March 2010. I gave my Garmin to my dad, and ceased keeping training logs for my running. I run according to my body’s desires. I use no music. I don’t even spend money on technical running gear anymore.
I’ve grown the courage to say exactly what I mean when I want to express myself. There are no silent, brooding moments in my interactions with people. I’ve begun to demand the same from anyone I keep in my world.
Mostly I’ve been striving to achieve what I call an authentic life. I have begun to surround myself only with those I prefer. I simply do not associate closely with anyone else. I have become brutally honest about my indifference to the mundane “problems” of consumers. I don’t give even a quarter of a fuck what new shoes are on the market, or what upgrades I could get for my Iphone. My phone is $29.00 of pure sophistication. It does what I want it to do. Text and call. Sometimes it even stays connected through an entire conversation.
In working towards my authentic life, I go out of my way to be selfish. I will do something only for me…and this is how I will remain satisfied with my world. What do I mean by this? Simply that if I find myself wanting to do something for the respect, admiration, acknowledgement, acceptance, or approval of others, not because I truly desire or need to do it, I will not lift a finger to complete the task. I will not coddle a person because that individual or observers would like me more for it. I will not run a race so my friends will rave about my speed. I will not climb a mountain to brag about how high it was. I do these things for the sheer, utter enjoyment I glean from the challenge of accomplishing them. I share my stories about them in order to to spread my excitement and energy for them, and for this reason alone. In this way, I truly enjoy everything I do, and rarely can become disappointed by a person’s reaction to what I choose to do. It has become very difficult to embarrass me, because that means I would need to be taking other people’s opinions of me and my actions, and make them matter to me as my own.
I’ve realized that anger truly only destroys you, and only you. Allowing yourself to hate and be angry at somebody (especially if you don’t exercise authenticity and keep it to yourself) will eat you alive, give you bad energy, and bring you down. What will it do to the other person?
Not a damn thing.
I realize that you are told this from the time you are a child, but if you really want to understand it, pay attention to yourself. The next time you find yourself sitting next to someone you think is irritating or obnoxious, and you find yourself crinkling your nose, slanting your eyes, furrowing your brow, or throwing nasty looks their way hoping they catch your discontent, stop and focus on how you feel. Notice the negativity, and the effects it has on your energy. Notice how distracted from doing something productive or positive you’ve strayed, and then breathe, relax, and smile or smirk even.
If it won’t matter in a month, it shouldn’t matter to me now.
So, in this second year of newly appreciated movement, I have much for which to be thankful. Everytime I gasp for breath, feeling the burning lactic acid build in my quads as I push my body harder with each step, I’m reminded that my bomb day could be completely different, and not by choice of my own. I could be spending it motionless in a hospital bed, or seated in a wheel chair, using a cane or without sight. Yet I’m not. I spent the first hour awake teaching a Morning Muscles class to a lovely group of ladies, another hour doing Zumba with even more lovely ladies, ran up a mountain with yet another lovely lady, had tea with a great friend, who also happens to be a lovely lady and who gifted me a pair of silver earrings inscribed “PEACE,” and later spent the afternoon and evening with a man the Universe should thank for existing.
Happy active Bing Bang Boom Bomb-Day to me.