a life of my own.

freedom, life, solotravel, spirit, travel, wholeness

The streets of Oaxaca City were quiet and I a stranger sleuthing through the quieted darkness in May of last year, the eve before my 31st birthday. I’d arrived at the Oaxaca City airport a half hour before exhausted yet wide awake.

I felt like I could breathe again after drowning for most of the year: a traumatic event affecting a family member, a romantic relationship I knew deep down was wrong for me yet couldn’t let go of because I cared too much; the severing of once close turned draining friendships, discontent with my home environment, a loneliness which began with a longing to be understood and seen.

I told the Universe out loud I wanted a reprieve from the depth of all I had been feeling and cognitively churning through. I wanted a chance to exhale and not have to focus on coping from all the bad, all the drain. I’d been dreaming since early January about Mexico with an eerie amount of specificity.

I’d dreamt I was walking the streets with a warmth in my heart I hadn’t felt for a long time. By early April I’d booked a one-way ticket to Oaxaca City with a vague idea of when I’d return. It seemed crazy then and maybe it still is now looking back but I was being guided. My request for a reprieve had been heard and honored.

And so here I was, sleuthing in the dark. Dragging my suitcase up the stairs in the Airbnb I’d booked. Dropping the suitcase in a spare corner with a groan and flexing my fingers. Sighing while collapsing on top of the bed fully clothed.

Then I was asleep. And then it was my birthday. I woke up with text messages and my first thought was to memorialize this moment. I took a photo of the room as the sun was rising with the curtains still closed.

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I went to lunch with a large group of women within walking distance from where I was staying. A vegetarian restaurant. The company and conversation drained me. The food was decent enough. Before we’d completed our meal, it started raining. The light drizzles met the top of our heads, our fingers, our arms, then our plates. Speed of the rain slowly intensified. Not a light, afternoon rainstorm. A torrential monsoon.

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I looked down at my floral dress and my sandals and said a prayer. I walked back to my Airbnb only to remember I’d left my window open. My suitcase in the corner was sitting in a puddle of rainwater.

 


 
I write, talk and think about freedom a lot because I’ve never really known what it means to be free. Certainly not as a child and lesser so as I’ve grown and matured into a woman well into my adulthood. A few weeks ago I was sitting in silence on the couch before I turned the TV on the watch a show on Netflix when I thought to myself that I felt suffocated and perhaps had always been under the burden of expectation. I’ve felt suffocated because of my parents.

Being the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant is something I’m immensely proud of my. My Nigerian heritage is so much a part of who I know myself to be and often intersects in what I write about as well. But even things like my beautiful name, the name I’ve struggled to accept and love, came with responsibility I never wanted.

My name is given to the oldest girl in a Nigerian Igbo family. In English, it means mother is supreme and is in homage to what the mother is and acts as in the family — the nurturer, the glue, the person who holds the unit together through love and care. In so many words and conversations, my father, who is also the oldest in his family, explained to me my role, my responsibilities, the things expected of me.

The pillar I was expected to always be. As a child, especially as a child who was born and growing up in (Black) America, I lacked the cultural context for why this was important and why I needed to step up. I vividly remember being told in an ominous way that since I was the oldest I was to be the example and that my younger sisters were watching me. It was up to me to be without blemish.

The mother is the resting space, a space to return even as you grow and age. The mother is synonymous with home and never forgetting from whence you came. My name is not just what I am called and known as. It is a responsibility. To be seen as the role I hold in my family and within the greater fabric of this world at large — to care, to help and encourage others to heal, to encourage others to return home, whatever or wherever that may be.

My presence, my existence, the fact that I am here, a living breathing entity means I am here to be home to others. I have never felt at home to myself.

I didn’t want the responsibility it meant to carry my name. I didn’t want the weight of expectation. I didn’t want to have to shoulder the burdens and cares of others. But as I learned as I grew older, as the conditioning was deepened, this was who I was called to be. Holding tradition, humility, sacrifice, obedience, duty and obligation close as dear, treasured friends.  

The past five years have been an unrelenting tussle between me trying to find a way to juggle all these things, what they mean as far as family, honoring and respecting them, and how to honor and respect myself. For the most part I didn’t find a way. I simply gave in. I collapsed underneath all the pressure. I played it safe because I lacked the bravery or conviction to do otherwise.

And sadly this is what I’ve done most of my life: the practical, logical and wise thing. I listened to my parents. I heeded their guidance of what was best for me. Their insistence of how I should lead my life meant at the age of 26 I had two degrees. I’d worked hard. Paid my dues. Done everything perfectly.

And I was miserable and empty.

There had to be more I told myself as a refrain muttered often. After graduating from Journalism school and before I started graduate school, I fluttered from paid internships to shitty part-time jobs. At one point I worked as a receptionist for a tax preparation service. I spent my time at the front desk bored and scrolling websites looking for writing jobs, emailing editors asking them to give me a chance. Nothing worked.

When I finally got my first full-time writing gig at a local newspaper in the metro Atlanta area, a full two years after I’d graduated from college, I let out a sigh of relief. I was sure this was it and I’d finally feel fulfilled. Six months into that job I found myself wondering if there was more. And when I finished my Masters degree two years later, that feeling only intensified.

There was more. I found the more in Spain. In the capital city of Madrid. I found freedom.

I found the space to figure it out. Start over. Piece together who I was thousands of miles away from home with zero distractions. Zero nudges of guidance from parents. Zero of the insistence of doing it their way, the way that had worked for them and wouldn’t work for me, distracting and confusing me. I owned my voice. I claimed my power. I began to have an inkling of what I was incarnated on this planet to do. And it was not, and had never been, dulling or ignoring my heart or my inner voice.

It involved listening to my own guidance, my own voice, my own desires. It involved…me. All of me. Only me.

 


 

This time feels different. This time setting out on a wandering journey away from home, the home I always knew, the only home to ever exist before it dawned on me home is a spirit inside of me, feels different because it is different.

I am different.

I am not doggedly packing up all I own into two suitcases and convincing people I’m brave to leave it all behind when I’m instead terrified and unconvinced in the person I am. This is not then. I’m also not running as fast as I can away from my life and expecting to meet a new version of it and me once I’m there.

I know, this time, my life never stops turning and I never stop living it no matter where in the world I may be. And I know this is the right decision for me and I remain unmoved of any negative feedback I may get. Although, surprisingly, there has been none this time around. And even if there was? I wouldn’t care. It would not move me.

My journey starts in Oaxaca City. I’m returning to the very city, as a starting point, which breathed life into a dormant version of myself full of this reminder I received in response to an email. An email I might add I wrote to the very man who had the courage to end the relationship I mentioned before that wasn’t right for me. Turned out it wasn’t right for him either. We both cared too much.

But he said this one-liner to me and it has stuck with me since. Hearing it from him, in a way, gave me a permission to take a leap:

I don’t think you should get too down on yourself about your life. It may not be perfect, but it’s yours. Finally.”

My life is my own. Finally. All the ebbs and flows, ups and downs, disasters and exhilarations. It’s mine. All mine.

Finally.

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dwelling in the dominican republic.

freedom, inspiration, life, spirit, travel

I journeyed to the Dominican Republic 71 days ago but I couldn’t bring myself to parse together any words until now. I’ve held the words, memories and reflections I had from the seven days I spent in Punta Cana inside me like they belonged in a coffin, waiting lonely and inaccessible from the outside world.

Some trips change you. Some trips are more than a period of time spent taking beautiful snapshots to share with friends and strangers on social media. Some trips are more than a series of things to do and places to go and things to eat and experiences to be had. Some trips remain etched on your heart and leave footprints on your spirit long after you’ve departed. The week I spent in the Dominican Republic was one of those trips.

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When I stepped foot outside of the airport and the sound of one of my favorite languages danced near my ears, I was hot. Really hot. I shed a couple layers of clothing as small beads of perspiration began to form on the small of my back. I twitched and scratched the nape of my neck. I shifted my weight nervously from one foot to the other. One foot to the other. One foot to the other.

But then I exhaled and breathed in the sweetness of the breeze. I smelled the ocean and trees although I couldn’t see them. I felt their presence through the smell. I exhaled and the heaviness from a draining Thanksgiving lifted away from my body. My eyesight sharpened. I laughed to myself. I thought about how you often don’t realize how long you’ve been holding your breath, bracing for the next blow, waiting for the next thing to come tumbling down, until you steady yourself and exhale.

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Until you decide to pause and let go.

I floated through most of the week I spent surrounded by influencers, photographers and fellow writers mostly pondering my worthiness. Through each experience, through each thing offered to me, through each meal, through each interaction, through each excursion, through each check-in at a luxury resort I wondered why I was there. I smiled on cue, I laughed when it was apropos all while mentally churning these thoughts, all while I wondered if I deserved any of what I was receiving. I was just an ordinary writer penning ordinary stories and doing ordinary works. I didn’t have thousands of followers like many of the others. I wasn’t a much sought after social media personality. I was always and have always been a writer concerned with honoring my heart first and foremost and telling the stories which felt most genuine.

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And those questions still stick with me months later as I navigate through yet another transitional season of my life where all familiarity is being stripped from me bit by bit. As the things which I once held near and dear fall away in a gentle fashion and I’m left to only contemplate the void they leave behind. Do I deserve any of this? Do I truly matter? Does living my life the way I see fit, veering the very opposite of a life of conformity, truly have any merit? Am I just a crazed person for thinking I have it, in even some small inkling of way, all figured out?

I pondered my worth as I floated in the pristine, almost crystal clear waters of Saona Island. Myself and the others in our group unloaded off our private yacht to have Cuba Libres (rum + coke) poured for us on demand as we splished and splashed, marveling at the beauty of the moment we were present in. Starfishes floated at the bottom of the sea floor and while there was excited talking and chatting, I took the moment to float on my back in the water, my leopard print one-piece bathing suit acting as a marker since my voice had disappeared from the chorus of chatting. There was a stillness I felt as I floated, my ears taking in the soft whooshing of the water and the soft lull of the waves moving my body back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

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I mused as I chomped on lobster a half an hour later and sipped on white wine after spending a short time wading in the water and participating in photo opps. I reflected as I fumbled in my tote bag for money to buy a fresh coconut to drink coconut water from. I silently prayed I wouldn’t be forgotten, that I wouldn’t forget myself my needs or desires, wishes and wants, my highs and lows, my heart and my spirit, as I stumbled to get back on the boat to take us back to the resort at the end of the day, my skin a bronzer tone than it had been before the day had begun.

I continued to reflect and muse and internally ponder as the rest of my time there progressed. As I spent free afternoons wading in beach waters. As I ate food prepared by an amazing chef in a private villa. As I partied at Coco Bongo on a Saturday night and drank far too much rum. As I peered at the beauty of the Dominican Republic from a bird’s eye view up in a hot air balloon, lamenting how my ankles and calves and toes had been attacked by mosquitos of the morning dew of grass in the wee hours in the morning, after sunrise painted the sky in hues of azure, pink and violet.

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Certainty is a treasured idea and notion but often in life, we don’t have it. We wade through the waters, seas and tributaries, lakes and streams, baby ponds and vast rivers, wishing we had it in each moment because it would make rising with the tide, and not fighting the tide as it rises, touching the shore more and more ferociously as the moon orchestrates all motion, a helluva lot easier. It would make our steps more measured, steadier, more sure, stronger, more dauntless.

But in thinking back to the seven days I spent in the Dominican Republic, communing with the water, willing to be healed in the nourishing way that water often can, there’s a truth I can have and hold until whatever comes next. Until whatever clarity I need shows up. Until the shores of it reaches my feet and takes a bit of stand gripping at my toes with it.

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And that truth is shrouded in being present. Fighting the temptation to rush ahead ten thousands steps because being sure would feel more comfortable than being perpetually unsure and having to collapse into the current of uncertainties and I don’t knows.

A wise person knows to be human is to not know. To hang along the edge of simply weathering the plane of many questions, of wearing a jacket clad with questions marks willing to be answered but instead, coaxing the answers that are unknown to just be. To exist in their own space. To level out into something which is undiscoverable and unanswerable. And to be okay. To be okay with not knowing and to find the grace to live within despite.

To live knowing all will be okay. To live. To live knowing all will be okay.

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This trip and experiences from the trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic were made possible and sponsored by the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. 

the surprising reason solo travel changed my life.

inspiration, life, madrid, solotravel, spain, spirit, travel

Because solo travel has transitioned from just something I do to a way of life, all my solo travel experiences have become a blur. I don’t mean that to say I have forgotten all of my solo travel adventures I’ve taken.

How could I forget my solo trip to Milano where I had a couch surfing experience from hell and a dear friend saved my ass and salvaged what could’ve been a horrible trip? Or the 36 hour solo trip I took to Porto, Portugal and the time spent sitting on a cottage along the Douro River crying because I was verklempt? Or being stunned into silence by the view of Eiffel Tower?

I’ll never forget these experiences. Not for the rest of my life. It’s just it’s been four years of solo traveling. Four years and as of now, 11 countries and 32 cities full of my wanderlust taking me to corners all over the world solo dolo. When it becomes a way of life, it’s sort of unconscious. It becomes who you are and how you see — and experience — what and those you encounter. The beautiful conversations you have. The scenes which beg to be photographed. The culinary bites which you either love or hate vehemently.

Solo travel has changed my life. As a woman. As a Black woman. As an African woman. As a daughter. As a sister. As a friend. As a lover. As a writer. As an artist. As a creative. As an empath. As a spirit-filled and spirit-led person.

I read a lot. A lot of blogs, a lot of tweets. There are more and more women taking solo trips. Which means there are more and more people writing about these experiences. Although most of the written are vaguely surface-level.

 Yes, solo travel will teach you to enjoy and love yourself in new ways and to not fear being alone. Yes, you will emerge from a solo trip with a newfound sense of wonder and confidence. And yes, every woman should have the experience at least once in their lifetime. 

Can we go deeper though? Can we talk about how solo travel creates new neural pathways and shifts you emotionally, mentally and physically?

For me, the most unexpected and surprising reason solo travel has changed my life is how it instilled within me the treasure of still truths. A knowing that it’s okay to start completely over and to not have a plan. Solo travel taught me it’s okay to break the mold and veer off the path lain in front of me that isn’t really mine but instead is one that’s always been taken.

Traveling alone — without friends, family and a significant other by my side — inadvertently taught me how to be who I a truly am, the person I spent most of my life running from. An individual. A woman who lets her heart guide her. A woman who isn’t fearless like most people think she is but instead, a woman who is almost always afraid but is brave and courageous simply because she works with the fear in her life that arises.

I did not have that sense until I dared to start doing things alone. And not just travel either. I mean doing everything alone, from the mundane to the magnificent. To spend a lifetime not listening to your heart and what it wants and deferring to the voices of others, is like living a life chained. A life which is limiting and has limits. A life which can’t expand, grow wings and fly away and reach new heights. A life which is rife with too much comfort, too much familiarity and too much of the same.

A life which wants to change but is afraid to change and rather than look the fear square in the eye, quiet it by staying put.

Solo travel, surprisingly, handed me the rest of my life, my life which was waiting for me to awaken to it, to say I was ready to accept the great challenge and calling I was born and named for.

I’m writing this post from a flat near the center of Madrid, Spain. Almost four years ago, I took my first international solo trip here. No one was excited for me when I announced that I was taking this trip by myself. I was met with endless questions about how safe it would be for a young woman like myself traveling with no companion. People asked me if I spoke Spanish. What I would do if I got lost. If I would run out of money. If I would be able to use my cell phone.

The almost two weeks I spent in Madrid were spent carrying those questions, holding the projections of others near and dear to my heart. At a certain point during my time there, I wanted to enjoy myself without my brain being flooded with other people’s stuff. 

Then was when the magic began.

As you can imagine, being back here in Madrid I am filled with nostalgia from those moments (and others) and remembering. Remembering what my life used to be like when I lived here years ago and how much time has passed. How it seemed so automatic that I needed to relocate my entire life here, my entire former existence, to a foreign country and city after a short period not even equaling two weeks.

I’m also reflecting on the great surprise of how solo travel began much needed healing. Solo travel unlocked my heart. It gave me myself. It told me to not fear, to shake off shrinking myself and settling for good enough. And it told me, with a gentleness, a kindness, it was okay to dream while awake, with my eyes wide open, in my waking, moving, everyday life. To not have to wait until it was night and the stars danced in the sky.

My heart. It told me to lean into my heart and trust. Lean into my heart and leap. 

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Considering taking your first solo trip soon? Join the Afros y Paella mailing list to get solo travel affirmations to accompany you on your journey and to get the scoop on my upcoming workbook Solo Sojourness: A Roadmap to Planning and Bravely Taking Your Solo Adventure. Join my mailing list here.

self-love + creation

inspiration, life, Self-love, spirit, Writing

When I say I love myself, I don’t mean it in a vapid, surface-level, timid, infantile way. I don’t mean I look in the mirror and am pleased by my physical aesthetic. I don’t mean I’m free from what people think about how I look, the presence I create when I walk into the room or how others feel about me.

It means I’m uncompromising about how fiercely I cherish myself and how I demand others who I am in relationship with — friends, family members, lovers, other writers, artists and creators — do as well. It means with everything I do and with every aim it is to ensure I am radiating that soul-deep cherish, the cherish which permeates through the center of my being.

My love, my self-love, is intimate, introspective and sustains me. It reminds me, on those days, those days when life itself, circumstances or other people are unloving, cruel and unfair that I have myself and I have my love and my love, my self-love, can truly be enough.

When I say I love myself, I don’t mean I love my talents, skills and abilities although all these things make me who I am and make why I am, why I am a living, breathing member of this world essential. Loving myself means I trust my spirit and treat it as such, as a sacred entity in and of myself. It means my intuition is treated as a fine companion that is guiding and guarding me from all unnecessary pain, suffering perils and should be heeded as such. It means my joy and peace are at the forefront and constantly unraveling and clearing away any of the things that rob me of either is work I must do.

Yes, I do, finally, look in the mirror and see a woman I adore, a woman I am in awe of, I see the beauty in her eyes, the big, abundant frog eyes she was teased about as a child, and I see them as even more wondrous when they are sparking and full of glee. I see my curves, luscious lips and nappy hair as things of beauty and things to be appreciated.

But when I look in the mirror, I also see my heart. I feel the essence of my heart, too, and I hope others who come into contact with see and feel my heart, too, which is why being gentle and kind with it matters — and is another way I extend love to myself.

It’s no mistake when I dared to selfishly love myself, when I dared to give myself the nurturing, the gentleness, the kindness I had ached for all my life, the things I desperately wanted from my parents, lovers and friends but seemed to only be caught in a perpetual cycle of getting the opposite, the spring of life flowed through me. It was the genesis of returning to self, of being who I was created to be.

When your self-love becomes transformative, when you feel yourself starting to shift, when how you love yourself becomes the standard for how you will be loved in every situation — your work changes. How you approach writing, artistry and your creativity changes, too. It’s as if you are breathing new life into the process and it becomes a true way to get in touch with yourself undisturbed from the outside world. You lose yourself in the work. Creating no longer is looked at this laborious chore but instead a welcome escape, a place to become swallowed whole by the ingenuity of the core of who you are.

A writer, an artist, a creative — a creator — is often looked at as someone who is only as worthy as what they create. The finished product. We are often judged as the caliber of our level of execution. But what about the journey there? What about what it takes to rise to create something? What about how sometimes it can be more desirable, much easier, to capitulate to the obstacles — doubt, paralyzing fear, procrastination, lack of confidence, insecurity — and yet we find the courage from within, somewhere within ourselves, to create anyway? Does that not mean anything at all?

There is so much which can stop us from getting there, from the finish line, in that finishing becomes even more of a victory. But the road getting there, fighting to get to the finish line, all the preparation, perseverance and grit leans in and acts as its own degree of glorious valor. Our work means so much more because we triumphed above all that could’ve prevented us from completing. And self-love is wrapped up in all of this. Because we dare to love ourselves, because loving ourselves is an act of courage in itself, it demonstrates why love can change everything.

Love, self-love is beginning, middle and end. It is the why. It is what has gotten us here in the first place and it is why, we will keep fighting, keep dreaming, keep producing, keep creating, until the very end.

The world needs your love. The world needs you to love yourself. It is needed in the greater collective. 

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remembrance and reflection.

life, spirit

By nature I am a reflective person. I’m constantly looking back for lessons I might’ve gleamed over for things which were once nonsensical, to have some sort of clarity deriding from them. It just so happens that Monday’s date, August 24, inspired a sort of wholeness as I look back.

Two years ago I was just a week out from starting a new chapter in my life — relocating to Madrid, Spain. It was a decision which I ran from initially but then once I fully entertained the idea of moving abroad, something I’d always wanted to do, it seamlessly worked itself out. By Thanksgiving of 2012, I scarily held an acceptance letter for the intensive TEFL certification program I was in my first four weeks in Madrid. I told my mother first, who reacted strongly and was quite unsupportive. Some weeks later after I’d graduated from grad school and gathered at a Persian restaurant in Buckhead among friends for a celebration dinner, I shyly told all my friends the news I’d been holding to myself.

The almost year that followed my declaration was a palpable doubt and anxiety as I weathered through the visa process blindly. I quit my first and only reporter job completely fearful despite knowing quitting had to be done almost a year prior. And those fears never completely melted away. I only traded them with the hope and optimism for the international journey I was embarking on. I had so many thoughts about what the new chapter of my life would look and feel like but instead…life happened.

This space has allowed me to step into writing my most authentic thoughts, of exploring how transformative travel has been for me already and will continue to be for the rest of my life. Because really who would I be if I hadn’t started traveling back in 2009 once I got my passport?

When I posted my first blog here two years ago, I was doing my due diligence in terms of the blogosphere. Whenever you move to another country, you start a blog. That’s just what you do. I’ve had countless blogs since I was a teenager (Xanga and LiveJournal anyone?), most of which were either forgotten, deleted or abandoned. I had no expectations that this blog would be any different. I had no expectations I would feel the need to keep writing in this space. But here we are.

Expectations are often weighty, naive silly things to cling to. They are a way of looking at the life ahead of you in an idealized manner, without taking stock that sometimes life experiences are meant to happen in other ways. To live is to expect the unexpected and to know the unexpected often is the best way for things to unfold.

A week ago, after doing training for a new gig I picked up, I was astonished to discover where I was sat on the bank of the Potomac River. That day I’d brought that familiar brand of anxiety with me, tailing behind my otherwise sunny disposition, worried about one of those things outside of my control. I knew I had to find peace with it and as I sat on a bench by the water, the whispers of conversations from lovers and friends brushing past my ears and the wind brushing past my face as my eyes slowly closed, I could let it go. I could own I had done my part and it was up to the Universe to do what it would.

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Then I got up and drove home and started stewing in anxiety again.

My body writhed in anxiety for hours — a racing heartbeat, quickened shallow breaths, my face warming as the anger rose. The air went out in my apartment. I was sweating. I was furious. I was uncomfortable.

And it dawned on me all this was pointless. Why was I choosing to be so angry over something I literally could not do anything further about? I knew I was being called to wait and trust it would be all worked out.

Hours later it was and I wasn’t even aware at that point because I had detached from it all, texting with friends, tweeting and drinking brandy in that night’s cup of earl grey. I was oblivious and distracted when my resolution to my issue came. It was as if the Universe was waiting for me (with bated breath) to just relax and let things be before a seamless turn of events resulted. And things were okay.

In today’s reflective state about what the past two years of my life has been and how it has taken so many unexpected turns, this instance speaks volumes to me now. The timing of our lives is not something we can control. We can push and fuss and fight and clamor and try to escape when we don’t have the answers in an attempt for our life to feel less tenuous and groundless. We can waste precious energy on being enraged on why things aren’t different.

Or we can simply detach. Trust that everything is unfolding in exactly the way it has intended to. And be present enough to see the gifts instead of being bogged down in frustration from things not presenting to us in the way we would like.

I’m not sure what the timing of my life is up to now. I don’t have this blissful state of clarity radiating from my being. I don’t have a froufrou response about how now I feel enlightened and sure and everything has worked out.

But I do have peace. I do have trust. I do have the utmost certainty that right now where I am is where I am supposed to be. I do have the sense that things will start to flow now that I’ve stopped fighting and am choosing to be. And really that’s all I need. That is enough.

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