You Deserve a Break – The Power of Change & Renewal

I’ve been working hard at creating some new healthy habits since I moved to Portland, and thus far they’ve been going well. This is what I’ve committed to each week: 1. Meditate every morning before work. 2. Exercise at least 4 days a week. 3. Take my vitamins. 4. Schedule time each week to write. 5. Pack a lunch for work M-F. 6. Dance.

Fostering these habits has taken concentration and willpower, and I don’t always get them 100% right, but I’m sticking with them and that feels really good. Next I’m moving onto my finances and beginning to evaluate and strategize how to save more, spend less, and live comfortably with what I have. These are all awesome things to do – and I feel very much like an adult (for better or for worse) – but that’s not what I want to write about tonight. I want to write about something softer around the edges than pragmatism and discipline. I want to write about a precious and powerful healing agent called renewal.

RE.NEW.AL – the state of being made new, fresh, or strong again [Merriam-Webster says so]

Renewal is a new page in the book. It’s the old skin that’s been shed. It’s when another layer of oneself becomes whole and loved. Renewal is good for us. And after stressful times, I’m learning it’s essential to take the time out of my schedule to get some good old R&R – rest and rejuvenation.

Renewal for me can be as simple as an afternoon nap, or a hot shower while listening to a favorite artist (fortunately or unfortunately, my housemates get the special pleasure of hearing me sing aloud), a walk in nature or a pause in the whir of the day to just be and let my mind wander. It can also be a date with a friend or a good fit of the giggles.

After all the habit-forming “adult”-like work I’ve been doing on a personal level, I’ve been craving a little break. And so on Sunday, I postponed working through my to-do list for a sunny stroll through the neighborhood and a delicious cup of joe at my favorite cafe. I kicked up my feet, propping them on the chair across the table from me, and opened the cover to a new book I’ve been wanting to read for far too long. Then, after an hour or two of reading at a window table, I dilly-dallied on my walk back home, stopping to look at the artwork in a little gallery I’d never noticed before, and a pair of hazelnut brown clogs in the shoe store window, and then the sky, uncharacteristically blue and cheerful for the first day of February in Oregon. Once home, I sprawled out across my bed like a cat and spent another hour daydreaming and writing in my journal. It was delightful.

Finding renewal can also draw up the need for big changes, like ending or beginning a relationship, moving to a new city, switching careers or going on an adventure your soul needs in order to thrive again. Each of us has a unique need for renewal that only we can grant ourselves. What’s yours? How will you foster renewal this week? This month? This year?

Whatever it is you’re working hard at – a dream, a career, a relationship, a goal – remember that the breaks are just as important as the commitments. And if it’s change that will bring you renewal, then listen to and trust yourself. Leaving my job, buying a one-way ticket overseas and then moving to a new city were all necessary steps for me to refresh my spirit and start anew. Through change, I became strong again. And if I can do it, you can do it, because it wasn’t so long ago that this girl writing to you was very afraid of change…

but now I know it’s really a blessing after all.

Traveling - my favorite flavor of renewal.

Traveling – my favorite route to renewal.

Tonight I Needed to Remember the Magic of Things, so I Visited Italy up the Street

Tonight I needed to remember the magic of things so I dressed up in the lace wrap I brought back from Tuscany and the earrings gifted to me by an artist and friend I met in Southern Italy.

Feeling the joy of wearing such sentimental items, I slipped a book into my purse, walked out my door and headed through the cool night air to the Italian restaurant I have passed so many times on Alberta Street. Tonight, I’d open the door and stay awhile.

Sitting at the little table alone with a large glass of red wine in my right hand, I smiled, savoring the familiar feeling that became so common while traveling – the feeling of peace that comes from enjoying my own company and living solely in the moment, taking in every detail with curiosity and forgetting about anything that happened before now, or that will happen after now. I stared at a map of Italy while the perfect tomato sauce danced on my tongue and the creamy mozzarella melted into the warm pasta on my fork. Oh how good! And then a pang of longing – realizing my heart still yearns to be back in that country painted on the wall across from me in blue and green.

I ended up spending a total of 2 hours drinking wine from Puglia and talking about life in Italy and the U.S. – the similarities and differences in culture and philosophy – with the owner of the little restaurant. With a smile, Enzo explained “In Italy, we see our children as a part of us, that is why we don’t mind that they live with us – we don’t want them to go. There isn’t the need to be alone like here; we keep our family near us.”

And after the final espresso had been drunk and the last spoonful of whipped cream licked off the spoon, I felt as if I could cry when Enzo stood up, outstretched his arms, and shouted “Come here! Let me give you a bacio (kiss)!”

I’ll definitely be going back for Italian lessons and more chats about life over espresso. I love life’s little surprises. And I’m so grateful that the magic I sought was revealed to me tonight. Feeling a mixture of emotions with missing the people I love in Europe and feeling certain I’ve found new ones to love right here in my own neighborhood.

The place I called home in Baia, Campania, Southern Italy. Looking outside this window became a sort of ritual - the view gave me perpetual feelings of awe.

The place I called home in Baia, Campania, Southern Italy. Looking outside this window became a sort of ritual – the view gave me perpetual feelings of awe.

The View from the Bridge that Never Looks the Same

A glowing orange sun scatters a dusty reflection across the steel-blue river, while a flock of geese fly toward the horizon – black silhouettes of wings and beaks. In the distance, a majestic cone of snow, rock and ice hovers stoically. There is no sight better for my morning commute than a rising sun over Mt. Hood and the Columbia River as I cross the bridge, and state line, from Oregon to Washington.

It’s become a daily practice to take in the view on my way to and from work, and I’ve noticed that it is never, ever the same.

When we had a cold-snap in Portland, the river was hidden under a veil of rising fog, causing the monstrous mint-green bridge stretching across the water to be nearly hidden, with only the tallest arches visible, peeking out above the smoky clouds. On that day, I gripped my steering wheel and practically held my breath while crossing the river. It scared me to not be able to see my surroundings and I reached the opposite bank feeling grumpy and frazzled.

On another night, while heading home, I looked to my left from the center of the bridge and in the cloak of dusk, I saw a yellow, glowing beam of light moving across the dark water. Behind the spotlight was a large object gliding across the water toward the bridge. In the split-second that I saw it, I imagined it was a giant whale and the light its eye. On second thought, it was probably just a large boat carrying freight. But it’s much more fun to let my creative mind fill in the details.

The repetition of crossing the river twice a day has gotten me thinking about how I cross the bridge, meaning what attitude I carry with me and how I face the omnipresent anxiety of being suspended over a giant, powerful body of water until I reach the other side. It’s become a metaphor for trust, which takes practice. Some days, I feel stressed and afraid, my back is tense and I look straight ahead, wishing I’d reach the other side quicker. I can practically feel the churning waters below me and my thoughts become panicked. But on other days, when I’m feeling present and grateful, I scan the horizon in awe and wonderment. I glide over the bridge ease-fully and relaxed. I know the other side will come when I reach it. I’ve noticed that my mornings are significantly happier and more meaningful when I cross the bridge this way, as opposed to panicked and distrusting.

Now with a slight shift of perception, we could translate the bridge to represent any difficult point in our lives – a transition, a relocation, the end of a relationship, an episode of depression or deep confusion.

Are you beginning to see the metaphorical bridges that you personally cross? Good, then I will pose this question to you, which is one I’ve been asking myself a lot lately; how do you cross the bridge? Do you grip the wheel, grit your teeth and hit the gas pedal to speed through the discomfort? Or do you sing out-loud to pass the time, take in the view, trusting all the while that you will reach the other side not only intact, but wiser and stronger from the experience?

My goal is to aim for the latter and cross the bridge feeling grateful that there is a bridge at all. (At least I don’t have to swim across the river!) My theory is that if I can trust the surface beneath me and the trajectory of my progress moving across it, then maybe, just maybe, I can trust the transition from uncertainty to certainty. Maybe I can trust the path I’m on, even though there isn’t a map to it.

Whatever the bridge is that you are crossing, I hope that you find a way to enjoy the journey and pause to relish in the details. There’s raw beauty in there somewhere, and I believe it is patiently waiting for your keen eye to discover it.

A bridge I walked across in Portugal.

A bridge I walked across in Portugal.