Five weeks in: A life evaluation

It has been five weeks since I boarded a plan to Asia. The anticipation, uncertainty and excitement of that day are fresh in my mind as if it were only yesterday. Life happens in the blink of an eye and the line between reality and living in a dream is still a blur to me. Sometimes you need to pause, assess and evaluate it all to make sure you’re still on the right track.IMG_8733I’ve been reflecting a lot lately. Trying to learn and grow from these experiences, challenging myself to be a better person. This post is more or less a collection of thoughts written throughout the past week so it may be out of order and not make a lot of sense. But It’s time to go beyond the surface of story telling and share how I really feel at this point in the journey. It’s not exactly easy putting it all out there for the world to read… but this trip has got me in the habit of going with my gut and not holding back. Life is too short.IMG_8791In five weeks I’ve experienced a wider gamut of emotions than I have in my entire lifetime. I can only imagine what the next 30, or even 60 years will bring.IMG_8819I’ve come to realize that my first 30 years of life were spent coasting by—a comfortable existence shielded from hardships and trauma that many others face. There were times I was trapped in my own hell but it wasn’t born out of external circumstances, rather my own fears and insecurities. I suppose when there’s nothing to challenge you on the outside, your own mind creates ways to torment itself. This is why I believe the only way to achieve absolute happiness and contentment is to detach from your sense of self, the egoic mind, and become conscious of Being. This transition from unconscious to conscious has changed everything. It was the lightbulb moment as I read Eckhart Tolle’s words on the plane descending into Bangkok, and it’s what has allowed this trip to transform me.IMG_8711

In The Power of Now, Tolle explains:

“The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life’s challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious, and an already conscious person more intensely conscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can use it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare.”IMG_8726Five weeks ago I reached a breakthrough, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve broken through to a new world with unchartered waters, and it’s much more vast than I could have imagined. I’ve only taken the first step, not knowing how wide or deep this new territory is and without a map to guide me. I know much less than I thought I knew before—only that I’m in a better place and can never turn back.  IMG_8760Even with this enlightenment, it’s hard to reverse a lifetime of conditioning and sometimes I break. To be clear, everything I’ve expressed here has been exactly how I felt at the time. It really has been a series of blissful moments and I’ve been riding that high as long as I can. I thought that by removing myself from everything safe and easy and familiar, I’d be forced to become stronger, better and happier on a deeper level. And I am… without question. But I also didn’t expect to meet so many amazing people and spend every day caught up In a new experience. It’s all been one big distraction and sometimes I wonder if I’ve been using that as a crutch, becoming dependent on outside factors to bring happiness. IMG_8757Maybe I use these distractions so that I’m not trapped in my own mind, knowing where it can wander. Not feeling strong enough to prevent it from bringing me down. No matter how alive and happy I feel outside of these dark moments, they’ll always be there, waiting to creep back in—distractions won’t fix that. Maybe I’m not ready to feel complete on my own yet… or ever, and will constantly seek connections with others to bring happiness. It’s a scary thing, having to rely on others to fill that need for you, and as I’m writing these words now I realize it’s my biggest fear in life—the one I’ve always struggled with. Learning to be completely and entirely whole and content on my own.IMG_8814I think back to my old life and remember how easy a lot of things were. How simple it was. Everything was all figured out, I just had to continue down that path. I was much more certain of things back then, but it was all for a life that I wasn’t meant to live. IMG_8770I’ve never liked not having things figured out. I want to be the person who has it together and knows what they’re doing and how to do it. We all want this, right? But sometimes we’re so zoned into the ideas we’ve formed from a young age and the plans we make for ourselves, and we decide it must be the only way to live.

Sometimes one small piece of the puzzle changes shape and gently guides us in a new direction, until the end result is completely different than our original vision. Other times something comes along and shakes us so hard that we’re forced to start from the beginning, not sure of how to put the pieces back together, so we build a new puzzle. But knowing we’re in control? That is the best part. We’re in charge of this thing and can change course at any time, with just one small step or by starting all over. IMG_8783I scroll through my Facebook feed and watch as friends and bloggers transition into autumn, posting photos of their homes perfectly staged with seasonal foliage, gourds and neutral palettes. I wonder what my fall home tour would have looked like. IMG_8745I used to love this time of year. Pumpkins and apple cider and cozy blankets and sweaters. Yet here I am in the eternal summer that is Southeast Asia, drinking warm beer in a stuffy boat with strangers floating down a river that cuts through a foreign jungle land. Without the changing of seasons and their familiar routines, my internal clock has stopped ticking. I could end up forever caught in this state of existence, living day to day where sunrises and sunsets are the only benchmark of time.IMG_8779Last week in Chiang Mai, after four days of perhaps a bit too much fun, I ended up in the hospital at 5am the day my visa expired and I was supposed to leave for Laos. It was nothing too serious—I was back in the hostel an hour later with meds and spent almost 2 days in bed recovering. But It was the longest I’d been alone on this trip—my distractions were gone, and I broke.IMG_8776The mind left unchecked can wander into some very dark and painful places. I couldn’t see what was below me when I jumped blindly into this new world, but I knew I’d have to navigate it alone. It’s a strange and lonely place though I’ve managed to find the light that lives on the surface and stay above water. But sometimes the light disappears and I sink. On the way down I reach for anything I can to pull myself back out, terrified of going to that dark, unknown hole. But then I remember I’ve been there before. I remember the emotional pain that forced me here and the physical pain on the trek that made me grow stronger. I realize there is so much left to experience and discover and I know I’m just beginning to learn. IMG_8735Its easy to feel complete and whole at your happiest moments, but when those are taken away… that’s the true test. Those two days alone in my room were my lowest point on this journey. I still have a long way to go.IMG_8788I’ve been in Laos for five days now. The photos in this post are from two days traveling from the border down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. This country is more beautiful than I had imagined and I can’t wait to share more with you. Until next time…


31 thoughts on “Five weeks in: A life evaluation

  1. I don’t think it is human nature to be entirely content and whole on our own… we are social and emotional animals meant to nurture relationships and exist together.

  2. Hi Jenna,
    Your journey of self discovery is very inspiring. Your blog about your journey is raw with emotions, bravery and adventurous. I applaud you for sharing your path with us. I been through some life changing event which ends up being totally opposite of what you did. I traveled to the states from Asia (Malaysia) 17 years ago when I was 27 years old for my own self discovery journey. The first couple years are the hardest and I hit the lowest point in my life. But still, I am so glad that I took that leap of faith and jump on that plane 17 years ago. I end up staying here in US, now happily married and raising two kids. I do believe there is always a silver lining on the path we took and we will end up at where we are suppose to be. Keep looking for what you are searching and never give up, you are stronger and braver than you think you are. And keep sharing your journey, your blog will sure help someone who is walking that path (someone like me 27 years ago) . Love and best wishes to you.

  3. I have loved reading your journey. Thanks for posting online. It has helped. I have a question about this though, cause it’s something I’ve wondered about for awhile now. I feel like there has to be more than decorating, raising kids, or the everyday life humdrum. What else is there? I’ve been trying to figure this out for awhile, and I know it’ll be different for everyone, but I’d like to know your opinion about it. Thanks again and hope you travel safely.

  4. I appreciate your honesty! For the record, I look more forward to your posts than the fall home tours. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful and inspiring, but they are surface level beauty. Strangers who hardly have anything feeding you in cooking huts…..that’s a thing of beauty.

  5. I think so many of us out here connect with your story because who amongst us haven’t been through a huge, life altering transition? Though I may not have boarded a plane to another country during my own transitions, I know what it feels like to transition out a relationship/routine that I thought I wanted but it wasn’t making me happy. The search for one owns happiness is lonely and scary. I can’t imagine being alone in a foreign country dealing with those types of emotions. Praying for clarity and happiness for you.

  6. You are learning to live in the moment, which I think is the key to happiness . The great news is you have beautiful and happy memories and experiences to draw on to get you back to a good feeling place when your thoughts start dragging you down. You are retraining your brain and telling it who is in charge! I love your blog!
    Thanks so much for sharing. I look forward to every post!

  7. I stumbled across your blog as I was searching Pinterest for new home decor ideas but instead got sucked into your adventure. You are inspiring and thank you for sharing your journey. I look forward to reading more!

  8. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. You may have felt like your world was crushed. Never doubt that you are a strong confident woman. You picked yourself up and did something most wouldn’t even try on their own. Your prior life just happened each day. Most people get complacent and go through life until they hit the wall of reality. Whatever happened,you decided to change how you live your life. You that strong woman took the hard path to change and think of what will make me happy. I am so enjoying your journey as I will never get to see these wonderful things.

  9. Jenna! These posts are WAAAAAY better than fall home tours. This is REAL, fall home tours are nice, but what you’re writing and doing has meaning. I really get excited to see your posts. Good luck to you, stay strong!

  10. I am so inspired by your curiosity of the greater world, and your determination to seek more. It’s so easy to be comfortable, as you mention, but really life is out of our control, despite our best efforts. Boy we try though, don’t we 🙂
    The older I get, the less I find I need. What I really crave is connection to others, and especially finding a commonality with those I have nothing in common with…seemingly. Of course we all have a common denominator, we just have to open ourselves up to what’s possible.
    I think you’re taking great strides in figuring out your possibilities! Thank you for taking us along on your journey. I have a feeling you’re empowering many others, as well as yourself!

  11. I think you are incredibly strong and courageous to fight for your life, because that’s what I think you are doing. Or maybe I should say the life you want to have. It’s so easy to be complacent and just settle for the familiar. So experience what you need to so you can get to where you want to be. I am older than you and I have had my own journey. But one thing I know is that we are not in control. We seek to be in control and try to mastermind what we think will make us happy. I believe in God and have a relationship with Him that brings a peace and joy that is not superficial. I pray you find that peace and joy. Keep seeking. Keep peeling off the layers until you find what really matters to you. Thanks for sharing your discoveries with us. We extend support from afar. Don’t deny yourself connecting to others. We are made to have relationships. I am not trying to preach to you, but if that dark place occurs, say a little prayer to rebuke it and pray for peace, comfort, and light. God bless you, Jenna.

  12. Jenna,
    What a baring of your soul and such raw, honest feelings. You express yourself so well and it gives me such food for thought. Thank you for sharing not only your beautiful trip, but the times you are down, and the emotions you are experiencing.
    I hope you are doing better and that you foot is on the mend.

  13. Jenna! Your personal journey is truly inspiring, so thank you for sharing it with us. (And, by the way, SO much more interesting than another fall home tour, even though your design style IS bananas). I can’t wait for each new installment of your adventure and am so impressed by your perseverance. Each time I read a new post I am reminded of the “All who wander…” quote in the post that was the introduction to your new adventure, and I’ve never really understood that quote until now; I’ve definitely never seen it embodied by anyone the way you are owning it. The vivid imagery created by your description of your 3-day trek, especially the part about pushing through the pain of your foot and using that pain to power you through, reminded me of a quote my brother always uses (usually facetiously though): “If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.” (Perhaps I should leave out the part about that being a quote from a Rocky Balboa movie? 🙂 Anyway, you are showing yourself to be a fighter. I hope you continue to find peace and clarity and strength as you travel!

  14. Jenna … I think sometimes the very best gift we can give ourselves is time alone with ourselves. Although right now things feel a bit raw and uncertain…relish it and embrace it. Breath it all in because, while it may not feel like it right now, there’ll come a time when you wish you could be alone with your own thoughts.
    There’s a huge difference between being alone and being lonely.
    …and don’t worry too much about “fall decor” and staged rooms and homes, that’s really all they are – staged. Enjoy this adventure in a new land and new climate…but most of all enjoy being alone…because one day you’ll look back and wonder what in the hell you were worried about

  15. After my big break up in January I went on a trip and thought that would somehow “fix” me. When I came back and still wasn’t feeling “whole”, I fell into a rut. I think it’s normal to try and run a way from ourselfs and look for things to fix us and make us feel better or just distract us. I thought going on a trip alone will somehow prove that I am fine alone and that will then mean I’m “fixed”, but it wasn’t as easy as that. It just took some time for me and that trip was too early and I was too focused on feeling fixed and acting strong insted of just beeing me and letting myself feel the things I was feeling. This summer I went on another much shorter trip and I was finally where I wanted to be. I was happy to just wander around alone, write in my journal and just be with myself. The way you are feeling is compleately ok and normal and you don’t have to be a some magical creature that doesn’t have feelings and is completely fine with being alone. Suppressing those feelings won’t make them go away. Accepting them will make you grow and appreciate yourself more. Having those feelings makes you human and beautiful!

  16. Jenna,
    You are not alone. You are inspiring your readership, and we are taking a piece of you out into the world. When you wrote, “everything you want is on the other side of fear” it struck something deep inside me. I take that into the world with me, and it has given me power to overcome challenges. I think of you and your bravery and who I want to become.

  17. We all need to remember that enlightenment is not a point we arrive at, but rather something we practice…daily.

  18. Jenna, I stumbled into your blog through a fall decoration you had posted on Pinterest. You are beautiful and very talented, sweet lady. Minutes after leaving your blog I was reading from Breaking Free by Beth Moore and came across this reference that so vividly brought your travel pictures to mind: Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine, says the Lord who created you. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.

    I have been where you are, and that’s where I discovered the God who created me and loves me. You are precious in his sight and never alone.

  19. I absolutely love these posts. Self reflection and realness. Your journey afar is reminding me some parallel key points in mine as well. Get it girl. Keep discovering and living out your fullest potential and conscious self!

  20. Jenna, your story is unfolding, raw and emotional and right at the surface. Keeping it real. We are all fighting a battle of some kind. My demons are grief and loss of my only child in one sudden moment, a moment I re-live over and over again. Your journey of discovery has me glued to every post. You have captured us all with your words and images.

  21. Don’t forget about your fan base, Jenna Sue. Hope you are healthy, happy, and I know you are strong! I miss your posts! I am tired of all the fall decorating blogs. I need raw and real , and you have so eloquently provided that. Please post, my friend!!

  22. Hope you are doing well Jenna! Your journey is inspiring, and I truly hope you are finding all you need to feed your soul.

    Stay healthy and I hope to read more when you can share.

    Thank you!

  23. Your journey is amazing! Enjoying following along on your adventure. Wish I had the courage to leave it all behind and discover a new me. Just want to know…..what happened to Susie and Biscuit?

  24. Jenna,
    I happened to stumble on your blog today. As life would have it, I am under the weather from my hopefully last chemo treatment, and was looking for some projects for when I am well again. (You have some great projects). Having gone through many ups and downs over the years, there’s only one thing I am pretty sure of. You are probably too young to be familiar with this quote, but it has remained a standard from the 16th century, and bears witness to what I have found: ” No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. ” John Donne. Your happiness will come from within you and from those you relate to. God Speed.

  25. Jenna, we’re not meant to be independent from others. Total self-sufficiency is an illusion but it would also be hell were it achievable (take it from someone who tried very hard to make it happen).

    The greatest joys we can experience in this world all consist of communion with our fellow man. We are at our peak when we share love, life, and joy.

    This doesn’t mean that we should cling onto others for our happiness. When we do that we are actually taking ourselves out of communion with them – we are trying to possess them. This is why it inevitably ends in disappointment, tears, rupture. But the problem is not that we are not self-sustaining enough. It’s that we try to hold onto and to own what can only be received gratefully as a gift and immediately passed on. Love must be a perpetual action of giving, it must flow out from us. The moment we try to hold onto it as a static thing it withers and dies.

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