YOLO…. if only it were sustainable
By the summer of 2018 I had been living in Nashville for 4 years. I was working as a mental health therapist in a public school, a job which drained me mentally and emotionally (I had very poor boundaries). I often felt empty, powerless and stuck in the dark depths of human suffering.
I was seeing an incredible therapist at the time who was helping me breathe through all the sadness and hopelessness that felt so sticky in my chest. I was also living with my best friend (I love you, Case) and surrounded by an incredible community (thank God for Sangha, right?), which held me with such loving kindness.
I was living day to day relying heavily on external circumstances, experiences and validation from others in order to feel happy and fulfilled. And, I was great at it!
I was a people pleaser so I was good at getting that praise, even if it meant ignoring the voice of my heart.
“YOLO” was always my financial philosophy so it was easy to fill myself up with dinners out, all the yoga and fitness packages I desired, fancy cocktails, mani/pedis and Lululemon attire while avoiding looking at my bank account and credit card statements.
So here I was, living a fun AF life I could barely afford, surrounded by such a strong and incredible community that I loved and that loved me (thank you all) and still feeling anxious, sad and lacking a real purpose or sense of meaning/direction in life.
It was from this emotional/financial space that in June I embarked on a trip to Europe for the first time. I was flying by myself to Santorini for Shiva Rea’s Soma (nectar) yoga retreat and then traveling to Barcelona on my own for a few days to explore. My brother gifted me this trip, I would never have been able to afford it without his holy generosity, and he gave me the push to go for it.
I didn’t know it at the time but it was the beginning of a much bigger shift for me.
The Soma Namaskar that we were practicing every day was a lunar, restorative practice all about drinking in the sweet nectar of the elements and filling ourselves up with breath. It was nourishment embodied.
One of the most transformative pieces was the shift in perspective on the breath. Shiva instructed us to ground down on the inhale rather than the exhale. For those of you yoga practitioners reading this you know that often it is the outbreath that emphasizes grounding and deepening and the inbreath that is lifting and expanding.
For her Soma practice you pull the inhale deep into your belly as you ground down. You imagine the inbreath as the nectar, as if you are pouring it into yourself, filling yourself up as you stay rooted, firmly connected to the earth, to your power.
After a few days of the practice I was moved to tears as I finally understood what it was like to turn my energy and love inward toward myself instead of constantly looking outward, reaching outward, pouring it out.
I took the lessons of the Soma Namaskar with me as I explored the incredible island. Continuing to pull the energy from the sea, the winds, and the ancient volcano deep into my body with each inhale.
“From the mountains to the sea, all of this is within me, I have everything I need.” The lyrics from a Trevor Hall song, Everything I Need, repeating in my mind like a mantra while I hiked from Oia to Firostefani each afternoon. As I walked by myself along the cliffs of Santorini, with 360 degree views of the Aegean Sea, I was learning how to fill myself up. I was learning about my own internal power, the energy within me. I continued this mantra and breath practice for the rest of my trip.
As I walked all over Barcelona, as I met new people, got lost on a train, ate delicious food, made wrong turns. “From the mountains to the sea all l of this is within me, I have everything I need.” Breathe in, nourish, ground. Breathe in, nourish, ground. Again and again.
On the plane ride home from Barcelona I got out my journal and wrote down what my ideal life would be. A big piece was that I wanted financial freedom. My goal was to minimize my expenses to save up and buy a home. This way I could create some passive income by renting it out in order to continue to travel and see the world without having to rely on the random kindness of relatives.
Why does talking about money make us feel so uncomfortable?
In our communities we don’t often talk about money, and so it becomes this taboo, elusive, material thing that if you just “open to abundance”, it will magically rain down on you. But deciding what money means to you is important and learning how to be smarter with it can afford you to do the things that truly matter to you in your heart.
For me, money means freedom and affords me the ability to travel and grow.
Getting clear on the life I wanted to create and what that looked like financially was a huge step.
As an unlicensed mental health therapist making about $40,000 a year with $60,000 of student loan debt, this looked like not spending ½ my income on rent, not going out and buying hip clothes in order to feel good about myself, and living paycheck to paycheck.
It looked like starting a savings account (I know, I know very late to the game).
It looked like moving home to save money while I get licensed.
It looked like being within driving distance of my boyfriend so I didn’t have to buy a flight every time I wanted to see him.
It looked like leaving that amazing community that I loved and that loved me (thank you all, again) and starting over.
What I gave up to create the life I want
I had never focused on long-term goals. Sacrificing present pleasure for some distant, not-even-guaranteed reward was pretty inconceivable to me. I was all about that instant gratification, floating from one thing that felt right to the next.
If something felt uncomfortable or, God forbid, boring, I was out of there.
But here I am, giving up a lot of the external pleasures and comforts I used to rely on and playing that long game. Taking responsibility to create the life I want, rather than just closing my eyes and hoping it will all work out.
Now, I live on the sleepy peninsula of Cape Cod. My life has way less glamor and luxury these days. I’m soon to be 30 and my mom is my roommate. I teach yoga and sometimes no one shows up for my class. I clean the studio 3x a week for some extra income, and I still work in mental health and am practicing emotional boundaries.
I’m learning how to decipher between what’s true for me and what I’m doing just for approval or to make someone else feel comfortable. I am learning how to access the strength and vitality and contentment within, how to hold space for the dark without getting swallowed by it.
The other day, laughing, I said to my friend, “Since I’ve been here (on Cape Cod) I’ve been uncomfortable most of the time.”
But I’m not running away from it, I’m not avoiding it by buying new shiny things, by booking flights I can’t afford, or over-indulging. I’m not relying on other people’s praise and validation to feel okay, and I’m not getting stuck in the darkness.
Because of Shiva’s Soma Namaskar I learned how to feel empowered and how to fill myself up from the inside out. I trust in my ability to do hard things. I trust that I will be okay even when it’s uncomfortable, that everything I need is already inside me.
In the midst of the sadness, the uncertainty, the boredom, the loneliness, the quiet, I’m continuing to trust, to stay the course, to breathe in, nourish, ground.