with a free and simple heart

I’ve been getting a lot of requests to say more about how I got started with traveling.

When I started thinking about this, I realized that my decision to “get up and go” began long before I bought my first flight. Before I decided to travel, I desired to live simply.

Eliminate 1 item for each day of the year.

That was my 2012 New Year’s resolution.

By the beginning of February, just over 1 month into the journey, I had purged, recycled or repurposed 382 items, thereby technically “completing” my year of simple living.

But when everything I was willing to give away was gone, things shifted.

My resolution became less about getting rid of “stuff” and more about creating space.

For the remainder of the year, I began experimenting with what creating different kinds of space looked like.

I started with my schedule and made 2 easy changes. First, I stopped overbooking and then I started scheduling “spaces” into it. By saying “no” to just a few things each week, I felt more energized and was able to be more present at the gatherings I did attend.

Put simply, I started “doing” less.

After making a few adjustments to my schedule, I started simplifying a few other aspects of my life like cleaning out my inbox and deleting old files on my laptop. Not having to sift through thousands of files or weeks worth of emails to find what I was looking for was a huge timesaver.

I made some personal, arguably drastic, changes and cut 12 inches off of my hair so that I no longer had to style it every day. Talk about freeing!

stopped wearing makeup, except for special occasions or every once in awhile when I felt like dolling up. Allowing myself to walk around town and into work without any makeup for the first time since I was 13 was initially quite terrifying. I felt naked. But after a week or so, I started feeling free and really beautiful without a bunch of beauty products.

I started re-wearing my clothes and washing them less. This saved me time, money, water, and allowed me to spend a few extra minutes each day channeling my creative energies into projects instead of into picking out “the perfect” outfit.

I made a few dietary changes, mostly related to how I ate and what I bought. I began buying “happy” products instead of potentially harmful ones and I chose to savor my food instead of scarfing it. I chose to pay a little more to buy and savor a single organic, fairly-traded chocolate bar instead of mowing an entire bag of Hershey’s Kisses and eating all of the negative things that Hershey’s stands for, like forced child-labor.

Practicing conscious consumption brought a greater awareness and appreciation to the food I was eating and challenged me to think about the people and the policies that helped bring the food to my plate in the first place. While this wasn’t always “simple” in terms of efficiency, saving money or ease, it was certainly helping me live with a freer and simpler heart.

When I was unsure of how to continue simplifying the external elements of my life, I turned inward and started playing with some soul space. I wondered how presence played into living with a free and simple heart and how I could more fully “practice presence” and “show up” for the tasks and people in my day.

I practiced listening as a way to be present and attempted to hear without interrupting the speaker or “needing” to say what I was thinking. I became aware of the violence and noise of everyday conversation and withheld, to a certain extent, a good deal of small talk and mundane chatter for the sake of asking a single conscious question.

I began a daily meditation practice and experimented with different forms of contemplative prayer that allowed me to focus on my breath as a way to still my mind, center myself, and exist more fully in the world and with others.

Doing all of these things saved me more than just time and created more than just space.

What started as a resolution quickly became a lifestyle,

to live with a free and simple heart.

A few years later, during the summer of 2014, roughly 1 year before I would lose my job, I learned a simple but sacred lesson during a week-long silent retreat.

I’d been walking labyrinth as a form of prayer and meditation. Each walk took about an hour and each time I found myself entering with expectations. I wanted answers to all of the questions I had been asking lately. I wanted insight and clarity and I wanted to get over and get out of the uncomfortable space I was in. I was frustrated.

And then the labyrinth asked me a question.

Do you fly a kite to change the world?

What?!!! That’s absurd, I thought, and so silly! And then out of my mouth came an audible response, like it was totally normal to converse with a plot of land that had a spiraling pathway mowed into it:

Of course not! I usually just fly a kite to fly a kite.

Then I laughed out loud. I was trying to make the labyrinth into something other than the labyrinth. If I could fly a kite just to fly a kite (and enjoy it!) why couldn’t I walk the labyrinth with that same mindset? And what was the point of walking the labyrinth if I wasn’t going to enjoy walking the labyrinth?

When June of 2015 rolled around and I lost my job as a part-time Youth Director, I asked myself, “Do you fly a kite to change the world?”

I thought about kites and their purpose: to take flight with the wind.

No doubt, I had a good tailwind. I could let loose the sails and let the elements carry me in a new direction of travel or I could anchor myself to this sinking ship (the end of a long relationship, a roommate that had just moved out, a job I had just lost) and stay.

I chose to take flight with the wind. I decided to leave my other part-time jobs and I began to simplify my life even further. I moved out of my apartment and sold my car.

Then, I simplified everything I had left into 6 boxes.

I decided to leave my cell phone at home (on purpose!), as a way to be present with the people and places I would meet and while I didn’t know it at the time, I wouldn’t buy a cell phone upon my return to the States because I fell in love with life without one.

I said goodbye to family and friends, stuffed everything into a carry-on sized backpack, and hopped on a one-way flight to Newfoundland, Canada.

I spent the next 198 days on the road exploring 8 different countries and 15 cities.

I lived for 7 months out of a backpack and exercised the muscles I had started to develop during that year of simple living. I realized again how little I actually needed and I learned to care for my clothes as a way to care for the world; if something needed mending, I sewed it instead of tossing it out and buying something new!

When I began my resolution in 2012, I had no idea that it would become a lifestyle and provide me with a “lightness” that would allow me, a few years later, to get up and go and pursue my dream to travel with a free and simple heart. But it did and it is.

I’m excited to see were the spirit of simplicity takes me next and how it will continue to free me to live and love more deeply as I prepare to fly back to Spain.

Or, perhaps I’m all wrong.

Perhaps my desire to live simply began long before I made a 2012 New Year’s resolution. Perhaps it began in my youth, on Lake Huron shores and over the course of many summer days, where much of my time was spent sifting through sand for seashells and splashing in the waves under a warm, golden and gracious sun.

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Perhaps I’m simply searching for the things that are worth smiling over. Perhaps I’m simply willing to try.

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2 thoughts on “with a free and simple heart

  1. Chelsa I am so happy for you. Your living your life just as you please and making the most of it. I can’t even deny myself a candy bar if I want it – can’t should really be don’t. I envy the freedom you have found in simplifying your life and am so excited for your next adventure. I miss the days when people couldn’t get ahold of me 24/7 but I also enjoy being able to call home to see what we need. Your grandpa would be proud and so are we. Love you.

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