Permission to Just Exist Please

The first week of unemployment has been rough to say the least. I keep thinking I need to be constantly filing up my days with eight hours worth of work. I’ve been continuously worrying and wondering about money and the bills that are fast approaching as the month goes on. Have I made a mistake? Should I be ashamed of not working – aside from the few restaurant shifts I managed to pick up? Am I hiding from facing the stillness by writing endless emails and working through health coaching modules? Perhaps.

While I imagine some would relish in this newfound “freedom” I am entirely unsure as to how to navigate it. Sometimes it feels like the decision to leave my job happened too soon, before I was really ready. Sometimes it feels like the universe is pressuring me to hustle and get my shit together. What I really want to do is stop. Everything. And just sit still a little while. I feel my body begging for it with every flux of anxiety while my mind quietly encourages me to press on. I don’t think I realized how much of myself had been wrapped up in that job. I don’t think I quite knew how unraveled and exposed I would feel. It brought up all sorts of words I thought I was past like “failure”, “quitter”, “reckless”, “idealistic”. Despite the exposure and despite the words rattling around in my mind, deep down I feel brave, calm, steady, determined. Maybe this is what it means to have faith.

Yesterday I went for a hike. For over two hours, under the blistering sun, I walked. I sweat about half my weight as the wind desperately attempted to cool me off. The woods were singing all around me, reminding me how very alone yet not alone I was. I felt so far away from the rest of the world, secretly wishing I could stay there. Maybe build a home for myself in one of the many magnificent oak trees. Every now and then, the life I had waiting for me crept back into my head, reminding me of all the uncertainty I had just created. I would momentarily hold onto the thought until a misstep or my racing heartbeat caught my attention and forced my mind to release the thought back into the universe. Just like that I would get pulled back into the task at hand and redirect my mind to the path ahead of me. I didn’t know for how long I would walk or what I would encounter along the way. I just knew my body wanted to keep going and the path wanted me to keep going. And so I walked on.

The woods eventually opened up and the path led me onto a more arid part of the park. I checked my phone for messages and emails from potential clients I was waiting to hear back from. There were none despite my secret hoping that the whole world would have been trying to find me. But I was left only with myself and the remaining portion of the trail, that I somehow, had to find the strength to walk. I threw my head up to the sky in exhaustion as I tried to catch my breath, which felt so loud in that desolate part of the trail. It caught my attention immediately and I put my hand on my heart to count the beats. My sense of “aliveness” became so grand and apparent and suddenly nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter that no one had emailed me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a plan to make the money for my bills. What mattered was that I existed and nothing felt more real to me than my body, the sun and that trail.

There was no other option but to keep going even though my mind was convinced there was nothing left to give. So I pulled up, from the deepest parts of me, every last bit of remaining strength and walked the 2.5 miles to complete the trail. My feet dragged and more than one I tripped over the hidden roots and tall grasses. But I knew there was a finish line ahead even though I couldn’t see it. I knew the pain in my legs and back would dissipate and that water was getting closer and closer to me. I eventually reached the end (and my car) feeling triumphant and so alive. The way all of us should feel every day.

I don’t pretend that everything was solved from hiking in the woods for a few hours. In fact nothing was solved. But it gave me a chance to just be, to find stillness, to reconnect with myself again. I wished all of us could take a few hours everyday to stop everything and just allow the time to pass without any sense of obligation to do or to act. It would be so nice to carve out time for those moments of stillness. For it is in the stillness, that we are reminded of our existence. It’s comforting to know, especially in times of stress, that by existing, I am living out my purpose for being here.  It makes me realize that the rest is like the trail I had just finished walking – rough, beautiful, unpredictable and ultimately victorious.

Julia Piantini