My month in the mountains: lessons on being human
I just returned from a month-long writing sabbatical in Brevard, NC, a journey I’ve made for the last three summers. Although the month was more of a lesson in being with what is (what a roller coaster June was!), I am always grateful for the chance to recalibrate in this creative, vibrant, misty mountain town of 9,500 just south of Asheville.
I love the chance to reconnect with myself, gain a new perspective and reflect on what I most desire in the second half of life.
This morning in my hometown of Austin (a city of two million, now the 10th largest in the US) I headed out to brave the traffic and go to yoga before diving into work. I noticed I started speeding to get to class on time. Then, I was fighting to find a parking space in the packed lot and finally squeezing in between neighbors’ mats to claim a spot in the crowded room. I could feel the stress radiating off my classmates’ bodies and my heart rate began to climb.
Then, my mind –still open and expansive from my time away—drifted back to the last thirty days. (Just long enough of a sabbatical to absorb new ways of being). I was reminded of what I loved and learned during my stay in Western North Carolina.
Here are some of the lessons I received on being human:
- Giving up traffic is a game changer! It’s literally life changing for your nervous system to get from one side of town to the other in five minutes. There becomes much more ease associated with getting around, running errands and visiting friends.
- Slowing down on the inside-as well as the outside- left me feeling more balanced: I was able to bring awareness to my internal AND external experience. I felt more integrated.
- Relational living beats out transactional living. In big cities, it’s easy to move into anonymity and “take” what you need and move on. In smaller communities, everything is more up-close and personal and you find yourself wanting to give back when you take. It feeds my soul to live this way.
- Synching with nature’s rhythms felt natural and good—I observed the full moon, the sunrise, the sunset, erratic rainstorms and loved watching storms roll in. I began to mark the beginning and end of my day by the sunrise and sunset and bird sounds—rather than traffic noise or patterns.
- Connecting from your heart feeds your soul! Smile, be an extrovert, reach out. People want to talk and when we take the time to ask, “How’s it going?” and really listen, it heightens emotional well-being for all. I was amazed at the incredible stories I heard simply by slowing down and being present.
- Walk and bike whenever you can. Many days and every evening from 7:30-9:30 I would hop on my bike or walk downtown and take in what was happening. The landscape and our experience shifts radically when we’re moving at a horse and buggy pace—as opposed to whizzing by in a car.
- I loved being reminded of what brings me joy: live music outdoors (especially on cool, breezy nights), long lazy walks with friends counting fireflies or morning spiderwebs, brilliant jewel-toned sunsets, eating sweet berries that I had picked myself.
- The fewer choices we have and the simpler things are, the happier we are (research on the brain proves this). A big cook and foodie, I was fine with only 2-3 eating out options or the choice between two grocery stories—instead of ten.
- Getting to experience being alone vs. being lonely is an exercise everyone should try. It helps to examine who in your life feeds you and how you really want to spend your time (I did miss my soulful Austin friends and of course, my family).
- Unplugging caused my mood to soar and my mind to relax. I moved into free association thinking and was more creative when I left my phone at home. I maybe watched one movie the whole time I was there—walking at dusk was much more alluring than Netflix.
- While stuff no longer holds a big appeal for me, it really loses its shine when you’re in a nature-rich environment. I think many times in big cities we can turn to material things (a new pair of shoes or a rich meal) to anesthetize and regulate our stressed -out nervous systems. I’d much rather hike under the full moon than go shopping any day.
- We’re affected by our surroundings more deeply than we realize. The natural world, the energetic environment, the pace at which people move and how people interact in a community all impact our sense of well-being.
My friends call me a Type-A, overachiever (as the oldest of seven kids, this probably contributes). I love to play big and enjoy my work immensely, but it’s equally important to me to enjoy the journey and continue to be open to new ways of being, living and working.
Lately whenever I feel like things aren’t going “my way,” I invite in the concept that things are happening for me, not to me. I take time to write down what I’m grateful for and to anchor back to the beautiful Western North Carolina reminders of how to be human.
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