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Takeaways From My Time in Joshua Tree

Even though I’ve been back from my trip for two weeks, it’s just now taken me until this past week to a) feel somewhat recovered from my time away (even though I felt physically relaxed and rejuvenated, I was doing a lot of emotional and spiritual work that utterly exhausted me) and b) make sense of what my time away meant to me.

In case you're wondering why I went in the first place, this is why:

*I wanted time away for myself

*I felt a strong pull to visit Joshua Tree - it kept coming up in different conversations with different people and the coincidences were just too strong to ignore

*I missed California (and sunshine) after a long winter in the Midwest

*I wanted to get in touch with myself and my intuition and ask some questions I’ve been sitting on for the past year

While I didn’t fully get my questions answered, I do feel more clear-headed and purposeful than I did before I left. And yes, my trip was very healing but not actually in the way I thought it would be (more on that in a minute).

Here are the five things I took away from my time in Joshua Tree (and a surprise weekend in Southern California with my friends):

Traveling by myself is a MUST

Probably my biggest lesson in life is learning to love myself - to be gentle and compassionate when I make mistakes or am trying something new and to give myself the validation, unconditional acceptance, and support that I’ve often searched out in others. The absolute best way to force myself to practice is by spending an extended amount of time alone.

While I’ve had opportunities to be by myself in new places before, this was my first legitimate solo trip. And it was wonderful. I didn’t feel lonely. I didn’t feel as though I was missing out by not sharing it with someone else. I truly enjoyed being in my own company.

Being alone also forced me to come face-to-face with my negative beliefs and the ways I self-sabotage. After a particularly difficult call with my girls one afternoon, where they were both crying and telling me they wanted me to come home, I hung up utterly defeated. For the next hour I berated myself for being a horrible mom and a selfish person, and I questioned why I couldn’t just be happy and content, why I always had to be searching and wanting more in my life.

The breakthrough came when, instead of turning to someone else to get me out of my funk, I turned to myself. I allowed myself the time I needed to feel what I was feeling - to be sad that my babies were sad and to wish I could be there to comfort them. And then I grabbed my keys and went to a yoga class. Instead of staying stuck, I gave myself what I knew I needed - compassion, validation, and a good kick in the butt.

The only place I’ve ever felt truly at home is California

In July, it will be 11 years since I packed my Corolla and drove across the country to Chicago. At the time, it was a move I needed to make. I didn’t want to live my entire life in one state. I wanted to experience something new. I had also just ended a long-term relationship and quit my Ph.D. program so I was ready for a drastic change in scenery too. Plus, I fell in love with Chicago and got accepted to my top pick for graduate school. It was an easy yes.

I loved the five years I spent in Chicago and I’ve loved the almost six years I’ve spent in Indiana close to my husband’s family. My time in the Midwest has been deeply meaningful and beautiful.

But there’s something that happens when I step off the plane in my home state. I feel…at peace. It’s like a big sigh of relief. When we were about to land at LAX, I realized that I could spend a little bit of time at the beach before heading out to the desert. The thought alone had me giddy with excitement. I come alive at the beach. I come back to center at the beach. And as much as I tried, I never found that in the Midwest.

Even more than my love for the Pacific, California holds my history. Being a third generation Californian has always been a fact I hold dear but I didn’t realize how much my family’s long history was a part of me until I moved away. Coming back for visits over the past decade has revealed to me, time and again, just how much the state is a part of my DNA.

Healing doesn’t always come where you expect it to

When people asked me why I was going to Joshua Tree, I replied, “I’m going to let the wild desert energy heal my soul.” And I meant it. I intended to spend three days by myself in one of the most spiritually energetic places in the country, participate in a meditation experience, and do a lot of soul-searching and soul-centering.

As it turned out, my meditation experience got cancelled and I didn’t end up doing much meditation on my own. I gave myself what I needed which was actually just time to relax, read, and soak up the glorious sunshine.

The time I spent in the park (Joshua Tree National Park) offered me some space to think and feel through my feelings but overall I didn’t leave with what I intended. My soul wasn’t exactly healed and I didn’t get to experience much of the wild desert energy. I needed another week for that.

But, as luck would have it, my best friends from college (four of them at least) were all getting together over the weekend to catch up, just in time for me to join them. There was a moment on Saturday, after everyone had arrived, where I found myself in my friend, Erin’s, living room surrounded by four people who have known me for almost two decades pouring out my heart and sharing things I haven’t yet shared with anyone.

At one point, I leaned over and snuggled up next to my friend, Alyssa, and felt all my anxious, pent-up frustration and confusion melt away. Why? Because I was surrounded by women who knew me and loved me. Women who have been there for me through most of my life’s ups and downs, women with whom I’ve laughed and cried more times than I can count. It had been a year to the day that I last saw my college friends and I needed that time with them more than I realized.

On the plane home, it hit me - they were the healing I came for. Their knowing, love, and support moved me forward more than my time alone did and brought more to the surface than three days in the desert could. As important as my time alone is, I realized that healing comes in being seen too.

Sometimes the answer is, “You don’t know the answer yet”

As I said at the beginning, I went in search of answers to questions I’d been sitting on for the past year. They didn’t come. In many ways, I returned home still as unsure and confused as when I left. But in the end, I realized that my questions weren’t meant to be answered yet. At least not in the way I wanted them to be. There’s growth in the in-between, in the not knowing. There’s growth that comes when you’re forced to trust the path ahead even though you can only see a short way in front of you.

The answer to my most of my questions was - “You don’t know the answer yet.” I came home certain that I missed California, certain that the only place where I feel calm and centered is the ocean, and certain that my friends are my life-lines. I’m not sure what those answers mean yet - or what direction they’re pointing me in but I do know they serve a purpose. Not knowing is OK. Being in the in-between is OK. I trust in the process unfolding before me and I walk forward confident that I’ll continue to be guided.

There’s no getting around the hard work - you always, always have to go through it

Before I went, I had this vision of going away for a few days, doing some hard work on my own, and coming back lighter and ready to chase my dreams unhindered. Ha! While my escape certainly allowed me the time and space I needed, it was only just the beginning. It was my starting point.

I wish it was as easy as booking a trip, getting away, doing some meditation and journaling, soaking up the sunshine, and spending time with friends. It’s not. The work of healing, of coming back to center, of changing your mindset and freeing yourself from the baggage of your past is long and messy. And there’s no getting around it. There’s no shortcuts. You have to go through it. You have to start at the beginning and commit to seeing it through til the end.

That’s probably the biggest, most important realization I gained from my trip. Even though I’ve been on this journey for over a year now, I still have more road to cover. But, I’m committed. More now than I’ve ever been.

PS. If you want to see some of the photos from my trip, I shared some today on Instagram. Click here to see my feed!

1 comment

1 Comment

Unknown member
Apr 23, 2019

I wonder how many CA people really feel like the ocean is home. If all I did in CA was see my family and go sit with the ocean, that would be an amazing trip. Even in SF where the ocean is cold, cloudy and grey most days, I just love it. Its one of the few places where I can sit quietly. I love how you have answers to unasked questions and answers of, "do not know". It sounds very powerful to me that you are capable of accepting the unknown as an answer.

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