Letting Go

packing light: part II.

Most of us have heard of the geographic cure concept- the idea that changing location will magically cure our problems. It can be so appealing for so many reasons, and the reasons are not all bad- there is much to be said for having a fresh start and new surroundings.

My friend questioned me about this multiple times when I was making this move. “Is that any part of this move for you?” she would say.

All I knew was that I was certain I was running TO something rather than away. I had done the years of work, put in my time. It was time to lighten the load, which I had been doing incrementally for years, and take a step forward into the unknown and bright future that was calling me. I had cleared away the “wreckage of my past”, or at least made peace with much of it, and was ready to move on to what’s next. And sure, the thought of inspiring new surroundings was a big draw for me- I was hungry to experience more and have expanded influences that aligned with the person I was growing into.

One of my mentors, Dave, quotes Carol Dweck who says the future is “unknown and unknowable.” There are endless possibilities. Today, this thought fills me with hope and excitement about what lies ahead. When I was 22 and just out of college, it was completely crippling.

I’ve written previously about some of my “tricks” to packing light. As the years pass and the aging process marches on, the need for some things (such as the many self-help books I’d amassed) falls away. What I couldn’t grasp at 22 I now realize at 40 (hmmm, as of last week, 41...) and do not take for granted, all that life is with its magnificent gifts. With time passing, I don’t wrestle with the same thoughts that paralyzed me in my early 20’s. After graduating from the safe college cocoon I had mastered I was terrified, shielding my eyes from the big, bright, overwhelming sun of The Future. The world was my oyster...  and it was simply much too much to handle.

So I didn’t handle it. I stayed up until 4:00am watching movies and sleeping until noon. I had a box of index cards that I wrote movie reviews on for my own nerdy benefit, and I shed a lot of tears. Looking back, this was the best tool I had to process my emotions at the time. I was craving support and watching other people’s depiction of stories provided that. I made frequent pilgrimages to the movie store, my mecca, to rent VHS tapes that would offer me some insight and relief from the swirling, intense thoughts in my head.

I ate junk food and mostly avoided getting on the healthy diet wagon I was supposed to be eating for my chronic illness (I’m sorry, but who the hell wants “a nice lentil soup” for breakfast?!), pulsing with a strong undercurrent of rebellion. I laid on the floor of my Tucson house alone in what I remember to be the dramatic depths of despair and talked on the phone with my friend Corey (who was impressively "older and wiser") for hours, who had the difficult job of convincing me not to give up when I felt ready to. He was incredibly empathetic and patient with my episodes, and, thankfully, also talented at making me laugh in my sorry state.

One of my favorite quotes from Noah Baumbach’s movie Greenberg is “youth is wasted on the young.” And so it goes- I look around, all of a sudden somehow 40, no 41, wrinkly and bumpy, my fresh, easy beauty gone. My inner beauty, however, beams radiant and strong, freed of so many of the mental chains of the past that kept me stuck.

As we journey along on our paths, there are little lifelines and clues to cling to even as it seems we are stumbling around in the dark. When I was very ill and in the thick of my health struggles upon newly arriving in North Carolina, a yoga instructor told me that I had a very strong life force. This filled me with hope because I could feel that it was true. I always knew deep down that I had a lot to offer the world. My current coach would say that I just need to get out of my own way to unleash my potential, and I see now that’s what I was working to do all those years.
To get out of my own way. This gets to the emotional aspect of packing light. We will be continually faced with opportunities to challenge our old beliefs and let them go, to make room for the new, healthier present moments that await us.

Wherever you go, there you are.” This is what we encounter when we make a move, particularly geographic. We come with us, ALL of us, including our rich pasts, our unique way of viewing the world, our experiences that shape our perspective. Here's a recent personal example from this summer.

The internet had stopped working a while back for several months where I was living during a particularly busy work stint and I started staying at my partner’s place more as a result. He welcomed me with a gracious heart into his home which provided a quiet work environment, strong Wifi and espresso (three things that have come to be Very Important to me these days). I was humbled by the offer and went overboard doing my share and then some of the cleaning and procuring provisions because I wanted to “earn my keep.”

I made jokes about being Vagabond Val, traipsing in with my plethora of bags each time- laptop and work materials, food, drinks, ergonomic work desk, clothes, toiletries, and so on. We laughed about how ridiculous I looked, a colorful pack mule crossing the street, lugging in all my stuff up to his apartment.
I was the one making fun at my own expense, a classic deflection. The next time I had a call with my coach she could tell the housing stuff was really weighing on me, and before we could move on to higher level stuff we had to address it. Shelter is a basic necessity, a Maslow's bottom of the pyramid survival element. What came up for me was some very old feelings of worrying about being a burden to those I love, likely stemming from longtime childhood illness. Not only do I feel more comfortable as the giver than the receiver in general, but I was overcompensating and in fear about even the small possibility of being a burden to someone else.

What my coach helps me realize is that I am depriving others of the opportunity to support and be there for me if I buy into this line of thinking. It can be quite hard to see it from outside ourselves, but I know if the tables were turned I would want to be there for the ones I love, no question, and would feel badly if I couldn't be. She suggested I write a poem about it as I worked my way through my thoughts. It was a helpful assignment and the words flowed out of me within 15 minutes. Here it is:


He doesn’t care about the crumbs
but I do

I’ve turned into my mother it seems

That’s OK, I declare
We all have our quirks

Or warts as Mom would say
We go right on loving them anyway

Grace grace grace
Give us some grace
I give you grace but not me

Bar is set higher you see

Old voices sting

Ring in my ears whispering
You’re too much

But what are we if not safe havens for each other?
Aren’t we all a bit too much sometimes?

Breathe.
Breathe.
Feel your feet in your shoes.
Let it sink in.

You’re safe. You’re here.
You’re VALued and loved
You deserve to take up space

You’re among the trees now
The stars shine bright for you
Look up and see
Beautiful and free

New kitty reminds me I’m enough

I’ve earned her affections
Like I earn them all-
With love, generosity and a spirit of the other

A genuine desire to foster acceptance and grace

Where does that leave me?

I’m creating this story
From dusty old yarns

It isn’t true, never was
But it’s familiar, well worn
And stubbornly clings to neural pathways

Screw the eggshells
They’re to keep chicks safe not people

Lay your burdens down they say

Lay them down at your feet

Allow yourself to be held
Take a chance on this love

People love me anyway
They love me although
They love me because

Listen up girl its true
They love you for you
You’ve got nothing to prove

I’m actually doing pretty good considering, I say
And its true

I’m doing pretty darn good anyway

And that’s enough for today.


~ VAS 7.14.17



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Rainbow upon arriving in California last year after 4 days of driving across the country.
Pretty good sign!


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