Hello dear readers!
I know it’s been 2020 for a while, but I’ve been off the grid, and hey – it needs to be said. A new decade is here. I hope yours is off to a great start!
Luke and I are officially back in Michigan. Time just keeps on flying.
Since it’s been so long, I want to take a moment to express my appreciation and love to all of you for following along with Luke and I since last October. All of the comments and emails, support for the Zambia fundraiser, and even the simple act of reading along from wherever you call home – it’s been so awesome to share with you all. THANKS for being here. It makes a difference!
As for being back, I’ll go straight to the first big question people keep on asking me:
In the shadow of this big experience, how are you doing?
Honestly, I’m still pretty disoriented! Even though we’ve been home for a bit, we were on the move daily in Patagonia, whether on a trail or on a bus to the next trail town. It’s strange to be back home and living life in one place. Luke is feeling this, too. Just last night I woke up to wander to the bathroom (no socks, boots or jacket needed!), when Luke sat bolt upright in bed and said “DON’T STEP OFF HERE, IT’S ONE OF THOSE JAGGED, POINTY SPOTS.”
I stared at him for a second, half asleep, and then he said “Nevermind, I was just confused…” and he went back to sleep.
Sleeping confusion aside, it is a little odd how quickly routine picks back up when you are in your all too familiar comfort zone.
I wake up and I use actual coffee grounds to make coffee in a coffee pot. No more crystallized Nescafé mornings.
I practice yoga in my yoga room. For weeks I was bundling up, lying out on the forest floor and watching the eddying treetops in the crazy Patagonian wind. Now I lay down on a yoga mat and stare at the ceiling fan.
We are back in a world where you can go to a grocery store and buy tofu, soy milk, and vegan food GALORE. Adios to living off of beans and the dried soy meat we brought with us from Africa.
And last but not least… when I’m cold, I have access to AS MANY BLANKETS AS I WANT! This is a big deal. In a total 180 degree flip from our time in Africa, in Patagonia I was REALLY cold, REALLY often. There were times when my fingers were so cold that it was hard to move them and I needed Luke’s help with any fine motor movement tasks, such as getting my gloves on or off, unbuttoning my pants to pee and re-buttoning my pants after peeing. SO – all the blankets in reaching distance? This is a pretty luxurious scenario.
But back to the question: how are you?
Of course, I’m insanely GRATEFUL for these last few months. No question – it’s been a dream.
As for being back home?
…I’m still figuring out how I feel about it.
This simple question starts to unpack a lot of thoughts.
I’ve been living outside my comfort zone since we left last fall. Now that we are back, am I ready to step back into it? Do I want to? What is next? What just happened to me? What did I learn? What do I see differently now? How can I use those lessons to live a more meaningful life?
It sends my mind spinning pretty quickly.
I know with time, lessons from these experiences will keep revealing themselves to me.
As for the first one?
It’s all about the comfort zone.
Defining the Territory of our Comfort Zone
On our flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, I was thinking about what it means to step outside of your comfort zone. This is a question I had been considering before we left last fall, and one that I posed here on this blog.
What do we experience when we step outside of our comfort zone and say yes to the things that call to us?
When we talk about the territory of our “comfort zone” it’s interesting to think about what we throw outside the borders. It’s usually an experience that we crave or the building of a skill that we’d like to master, but because of the fear of failure or some other discomfort, we let it sit in a place we’ve labeled as outside our reach and we leave it at that. Stepping outside the comfort zone isn’t comfortable (…duh, Katie, haha). BUT when we choose to step outside it, we are making a conscious decision that what we want there is worth the risk of the discomfort or fear that’s been holding us back. It means the high points of the experience are INSANE and light you up like you are on fire. It means the lows will come at you full force, and by hell, you better be ready.
I knew that the non-comfort zone I was taking on in Patagonia was going to be WAY different than Africa.
While Africa brought us to the heart of a different community and a new way of experiencing human connection, Patagonia would bring us to the heart of a challenging wilderness and into some major one-on-one time with our individual selves. While hiking brings you incredibly close to your partner, it is ultimately a very personal experience.
It’s a LOT of time to think.
It brings you face to face with yourself.
There are some interesting things that wait there.
The Highs and the Lows
In Patagonia, there were moments when I felt like I was on FIRE with happiness. On the trail, I hiked and I sang, I watched birds with joy, and I woke up to beautiful rainbows stretched across huge windy valleys. I did yoga in the softy falling mountain snow, and I wrote in my journal while nestled in the brush and trees next to amazing waterfalls. I drank fresh, unfiltered water from the rivers. My body felt strong and rarely sore. My hair was often matted and dirty, but I didn’t care. I braided it up and let it blow in the wind. I felt like a crazy wild mountain woman. I LOVED IT. In town, I began to speak Spanish with ease. We fell into routine – a new place each night, on the move and in a constant state of learning. I was in a dream.
At other times – it was incredibly hard. INCREDIBLY INCREDIBLY HARD. There were nights with very little sleep, followed by days hiking in some of the most challenging environmental conditions I have ever hiked in. Even though it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the weather could be brutal in the mountains. At times the wind and rain and ice and cold were so relentless that it would wear on me all day long. Cold and exhausted, it was a constant mantra: “Keep going. Breathe deeply. Pause and brace yourself against the wind. Use your trekking poles. Stand steady. Try to keep your gloves dry. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.”
I won’t pretend I mantra’d my way through every hard day of the experience, and yes, a few times I did totally lose it.
Discomfort and tough environmental conditions test you. More than once, my acceptance of a challenging day just never came. Moving forward on the trail became a MASSIVE struggle. The struggle would shift from simple physical discomfort to a major mental storm in the span of about 10 seconds.
I began to refer to these crazy shifts as “horcrux” moments (and yes, that is a Harry Potter reference! HP for life!). These moments set loose a mental spiral that dishes out every single negative thought you have ever had about yourself, every self doubt, every cruel comparison – all of the ways you aren’t strong enough or good enough. These are among the most challenging moments of stepping outside of your comfort zone. The fear and judgement waits. I’ll leave it there and state the obvious: it’s not a fun place to be. But if you are willing to sit with it, or better yet unable to escape dealing with it (for example, my “no off ramp” side of a mountain situation), it can be a liberating experience. It shows you the full power of fear. It can wreck you, or you can let it go.
The highs and the lows. These are IMPORTANT EXPERIENCES.
I left some serious baggage and mental bullshit on top of several of those mountains. In exchange, I hold memories of some of the most deeply joyful experiences of my life.
If you step outside of your comfort zone and WILLINGLY accepting the highs and the lows – your defined “comfort zone” will expand.
This means your life expands.
It is an incredible way to grow.
The Power of Choice
Arriving back home, I can feel that familiar comfort zone waiting for me. And no, I’m not referring to my coffee pot and the endless pile of blankets.
The safe and predictable comfort zone – I could walk right back into it and let this whole being uncomfortable thing fall into the past all together. There is nothing wrong with safe and predictable, if you are happy and fulfilled. But if a deeper happiness and fulfillment exists outside that territory, why not seek it out? Is the joy there worth taking on the fear? Is it worth the discomfort of redefining your zone?
I’ll leave this blog post with just one question, for both myself, and for you:
Where will you set the territory?
Simply put: We choose.
What an empowering thought! I’m taking it on, and I’ll smile while I do it. Fear aside, it’s worth the risk. I hope you feel it, too.
Questions or comments? Have your own experience with this that you’d like to share? Leave a comment or send me a message! I’d love to hear from you.