“There is no place so awake and alive as the edge of becoming.” ~Sue Monk Kidd
From a small café overlooking the boat harbor in Seward, Alaska, I looked out the window at the enormous mountain peak of Mount Alice that protruded from the earth behind rows of tour boats, sailboats, and a cruise ship large enough to carry several thousand passengers. My summer was coming to an abrupt halt, and I felt grateful for the time spent there.
Seward, located in Kenai Fjords National Park and directly offshore the Gulf of Alaska, is where many people visit. There are bald eagles that swoop through the skies, and humpback whales that breach calm waters. Wildlife roams free within the rows of pine trees, which hug the town.
Seward was home during the summer of 2019. My summer was spent in Seward, where I had a great view of Mount Alice from my campervan. Even at night, I could still hear the gentle murmur of the river.
When I wasn’t working downtown at a local coffee shop, I read next to the river, practiced yoga in the black sand that blanketed the bay, flew in a new friend’s helicopter above the wild landscape, ate breakfast on a beach where the whales welcomed the day, or sat beside a crackling fire under towering trees and mountain peaks.
It was a dream. But I didn’t arrive there randomly nor without trials. My environment, both internally and externally, was very different than it was a few years ago when I struggled with the same questions and dilemmas as many others on this journey to becoming.
The Confusion & Inner Turmoil of My Early Twenties: A Brief Backstory
Two years before, I was in the depths of the uncomfortable tension I felt between two opposing decisions: should I stay on my current, stable path or leave it entirely to pursue something more in line with my values?
As a recent college graduate, I found a job with a non-profit organization which paid well and gave me many benefits that I considered fortunate to enjoy. My goal was to one day run for the office. I also worked my way up into politics. On top of working, I was also trying to keep the wheels moving on a nonprofit organization I’d started to train women to run for public office. The idea of purchasing my first house and setting myself up for this kind of life was what I thought about.
I was twenty-three, highly ambitious, and working toward a life that I didn’t really want. But I struggled to understand that feeling because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful or, even worse, delusional for letting go of what I had.
A different side of me is creative and free-spirited. I am opposed to living a linear lifestyle. In truth, I didn’t want to go to college. My dreams were to be a photographer or writer, who gained knowledge through exploring the globe. Adventure, curiosity and creativity were important to me. Yet here I was—not only pursuing a path that didn’t fit those values, but telling myself and others I was passionate about it.
My head was full of conflicting opinions, beliefs, and ideas about my identity and life. It was difficult to find direction and felt trapped. It was difficult to be certain of anything and I questioned every aspect of my identity and my thinking, as well as the direction that I was going.
My relationship was with a man who was addicted to self-sabotage, harmful drinking and other destructive behaviors that stemmed from his sense of worthlessness.
I spent my days cultivating the professionalism I didn’t value and my evenings at my boyfriend’s house, smoking weed on his frameless mattress and teetering between my contrasting desires for rebellion and obedience.
There were nights I’d fall asleep next to him and the bottle of whiskey lying in the crevice between his mattress and the wall, then wake the next morning feeling drained, lonely, and lost on a path I was unsure how to step away from.
I’d unintentionally assumed the role of my boyfriend’s caregiver in a time when I needed my care the most. I was navigating the chaos, uncertainty, and vulnerability that often meets a person in her early twenties, all while reprimanding myself for not being where I thought I should be.
My teenage self made promises that I would always follow my heart, no matter what the circumstance. But in my early 20s I discovered it was much more complex than I had imagined.
Life has a way of guiding you in a direction that diverges from what you’d planned for yourself. Trying to navigate that divide can produce anxiety and inner turmoil–especially when you’re young, naive to the power of life’s unplanned circumstances, and still learning how to properly adjust your sails to work with its winds.
That’s the situation I found myself in when I was twenty-three, full of ambition, and feeling stuck in circumstances I didn’t want but had somehow still manifested. Through that time, I learned three key lessons that I hope you may also carry with you as you continually adjust your sails and navigate life’s shifting tides on your path of becoming.
Lesson 1: If you don’t know how to overcome your current challenges, look for lessons that can help move you forward instead of forcing yourself to take immediate action.
My inner turmoil made it difficult for me to find a way out of the pain and into a place of peace. However, my Buddhist-inspired Buddhist beliefs and mindfulness studies have taught me that I had to stay with the discomfort and learn from it. Instead of taking action immediately, I had to be present and observe. How was my feeling? Was it trying to convey my feelings? Was there something stirring inside of me?
I journaled many nights, trying not to try and make sense of the thoughts. Allowing emotions to come and go as long as it needed was what I did. I allowed myself to be open to what my emotions wanted and what would come next. Without needing to know the answer, I was open to asking questions. Every moment, I took into consideration my needs and made every effort to fulfill them.
By doing so I learned that staying present and accepting the current moment doesn’t mean neglecting action. It means being alert and cognizant of what lessons the moment has to offer so that one can move forward with the insight, tools, and knowledge needed when it is time to take action.
Lektion 2: Concentrate on what you have control over, and then move forward with your actions.
In time—by being still and aware within the confusion and fear I felt—I realized I needed to leave the situations that I didn’t want. I needed to adjust my sails to steer myself in a different direction, even if I didn’t know exactly where that would lead me. I didn’t need to know the future in order to know that I wanted to (and could) change my present circumstances.
Within about eight months my relationship naturally fizzled, I gave notice at my job, found a new job in Alaska, bought a van, gave away many excess things I owned and didn’t need, moved out of my apartment, and hit the road from Wyoming to Alaska. My sails were shifted.
Rather than focusing on the areas of my life I couldn’t control—like the potential consequences of changing so many aspects of my life—I leveraged the choices and agency I did have in order to produce different outcomes.
The third lesson: Whether you are experiencing sorrow or joy it will all pass.
The first summer I arrived in Alaska, one morning I stood at the dock and watched the jagged peaks from the distance. As the boats gently swam in the waters, I listened and watched as the birds sang in the sky.
My body felt different. My anxiety was gone. The anxiety had subsided and my thoughts were more open. This helped me feel more in control of the situation. I still didn’t know what would come after my short summer in Alaska. More than anything I felt a tremendous amount of gratitude for the moment and contentment in my life. Which other place would you prefer? It was a thought that I had in my head.
Sometimes I forget about the difficulties that brought me to this point and feel that joy might never end. The joy I felt that day on the dock was just as temporary as the hardships that came before it. But I knew that something deep within me was guiding me to the right place in each phase of my life.
Life’s changing tides have taught me the same lesson: both joy and sorrow pass through our lives like eagles cutting across an Alaskan sky. We often yearn desperately for joy over sorrow and grasp for a future where–when it finally arrives–all our hard work and desperation will pay off and we’ll live the remainder of our lives in ease.
But despite our relentless attempts to prove otherwise, the magic of life isn’t found in eternal happiness nor in the future moments that might follow the one right in front of us. It’s in feeling the depth of every experience, regardless of what it contains. It’s staying present in what’s scary and uncomfortable as much as it’s staying present in what’s exciting and fulfilling, all while knowing that whatever meets you here and now will pass in the same way as the moment before it.
It’s been two years since I spent that beautiful summer in Alaska. Within that time life’s tide has continued to rise and fall, bringing both challenges and joy. Just as I’d anticipated, the ease I felt that summer passed, then came again, and passed once more. Every wave of experiences has taught me many lessons. They were like small gifts that could be used, opened and viewed.
Being present to the difficulties leads to tremendous growth and strength. And being present for pleasure can lead you towards gratitude and wonderment. Both. The ability to see all sides of the spectrum is key to a fulfilling life. It’s all critical to the process of becoming.
If you’re currently sitting in hardship, you may believe it’s your job to find the next joyful experience as soon as possible, but that’s not your job. And if you’re engrossed in happiness, you might feel that it’s your duty to maintain the current environment of your life so you never have to experience hardship again. However, this isn’t your responsibility.
Your job is to sit in what you’re experiencing without infusing it with judgment and forcing your emotion into shapes it doesn’t belong in. Take the time to explore it. It is a gift that you can be grateful for. Ask questions. Listen. Do what you can so that it does not end or stay. Ask yourself this question: Is it possible to let the moment be? If so, can you explore it fully without attachment to its outcome or any of its consequences?
Wherever you are, it’s just a moment in time. This too will pass. However, its existence has a purpose despite the fact that it is temporary. It can teach you a lot about you. So while it’s here, dive into it and expand the depths of your dynamic and vibrant human experience. What depths can you reach? You will be shaped by the lessons you learn and the experiences that you have along your journey.
About Samantha Case
Samantha Case is a writer with a simple goal: to empower and support others to live authentic, empowered, and wholehearted lives. She’s written several articles with over 12,000 online shares for various online magazines. Subscribe to her email list at www.samanthacase.com for inspirational insights on living a mindful, self-aware, meaningful, & intentional life.
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