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.

Putting on my Now Shoes in Southern Germany

I left Steinbach, Germany with ashes blowing in my face. There were the ashes of the past and what used to be, and there were the literal ashes from the cigarettes Sebastian and his girlfriend were smoking in the front seat as we careened down the autobahn toward Frankfurt at 120 mph. When you are travelling at such a speed, there isn’t much time to waste. Every time I was a passenger, I did my best thinking, not knowing if I would walk away alive. I have to say, I don’t like moving through the world that quickly. I would rather walk at a pace slow enough to notice the details. But, oddly enough, I worked through a lot of emotional details in my heart while sitting in the backseat on the autobahn.

Little white flakes floated on the wind to cling to my dark hair. I guess that’s what happens when you light a spark and let it burn. One way or another, you are left with the ashes, the memories. At the train station, we said goodbye and I shook out my hair.  I glanced at my feet. Two white sneakers poking out from beneath my denim jeans, a big ‘N’ scrawled on the side of each shoe. My “Now shoes,” I thought to myself with a smile. Time to be here now and let go of the past.

In the days before, we went to one of the oldest cities in Germany that survived the war, Bamberg. We also went to a local county fair in Bavaria where everyone stood on the tables to dance and clap in unison to folk songs. There were teenagers in red converse shoes and the traditional Bavarian dress with the poofy sleeves and lace-up bodice. The young men wore leather trousers with suspenders. I tasted currywurst and local wine. we brought two of Sebastian’s friends home with us to extend the party into the early morning.

Driving home, I felt like my brain might explode. Blaring German punk music throbbed in my ears, while Sebastian drummed with his drumsticks on the front dashboard. We were zooming around curves with deathly cliff drops below at a speed i couldn’t decipher. The cigarette smoke soaked into my clothes and my hair. Matthias in the backseat kept trying to ask me questions, yelling over the music. The German and English language began to blur together into a confusing babble i couldnt understand. We had been going hard non-stop for days: hiking, exploring, driving, drinking, sight seeing. I was so exhausted, my eyelids felt like they were made of lead. At one point, i lost my cool. Sebastian kept asking me if i remembered historical facts and names of places and music artists we had discussed in the previous days, and i was so overstimulated and exhausted, i told him to stop asking me to remember things. I have a hard enough time remembering English names and facts, let alone names in another language i have never spoken. That’s when i realized, i was experiencing the side effects of culture shock. It was impossible to understand the conversation Sebastian and his friends were having. I couldnt communicate when i wanted to, unless the other person spoke English. There were other nuances and cultural differences I couldn’t fully grasp. Often, I didn’t know what we were doing. We would just pile into the car and I would surrender to trust, watching what everyone else did when we stopped somewhere. For example, are we stopping to grab something at someone’s house, or should I bring my bag in if we are staying? These misunderstandings happened constantly and I had to have a sense of humor to keep up a positive attitude.

On my last evening, we hopped a fence to cross a bridge over a wide section of river. It was closed for construction, but I followed the others, even though I knew it was a bad idea. Thankfully, they decided they didn’t want to have a “dead American tourist on their hands” and we turned back.

After Steinbach, I took a train to Berlin, where I fell in love with the world all over again. My next post will be about all I experienced there.