The Goal: Fly across the country by myself
The Why: Confront my anxiety of being in new places without others to fall back on for support
It’s been a little over a week since I returned home from my Big Solo Trip – sorry if I kept you in suspense! Besides just having to get back into “real world mode”, I’ve been busy trying to decide how I wanted to approach writing about my experience. Not to be too dramatic, but there are a lot of things I couldn’t even begin to describe because the sights, sounds, and feelings are intangible (or let’s be honest, sound a little goofy). I also don’t want to fall into the “female finding herself” trope whereby it looks like I had some grand epiphany (set to swelling inspirational music, obviously) and now am a completely different person. Undoubtedly, I learned things about myself through the whole experience and had to leave my comfort zone many times, both important reasons why I wanted to do this kind of trip in the first place. But to me, this trip is a catalyst for further change in the longterm and I still have a lot of work to do to reach my 29 other goals. It all started with booking this trip, so I’m excited to share my experiences and hopefully inspire some of you to take a leap past your comfort zone as well.
In this post, I’ll be focusing on my time at 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, CA. I also spent time in Santa Cruz and San Jose, which I’ll be discussing in my next (hopefully shorter!) post.
If you happened to read my departure day post, you know things got going in the early morning of August 10th (3:30 am EST to be specific). Maybe it was getting all my packing done ahead of schedule, having gone through the experience of airport security already, or just a mark of the work I’ve been putting in the last few months, but I was surprisingly relaxed the morning of. I didn’t get much sleep (as is common whenever I have something big to wake up for) and I still felt like I was missing something (turns out I only brought ONE hair tie…), but I wasn’t an anxious mess when Brian dropped me off. As I talked about in the last post, I definitely had my share of fumbles during security, which usually ratchets my anxiety up considerably. This time around, I tried paying attention to my fellow travelers in a way that wasn’t in relation to me…if you have anxiety, you probably understand that it is actually a pretty self-centered condition to have. In this mindset, literally everyone is spending their time paying attention to and making judgements about what you’re doing/saying/wearing/thinking/etc. – you really are the center of the world. I had to get it in my head that nobody really cared what I was up to as long as I wasn’t interrupting their own ability to get through security. It helped to remember that I am, in fact, NOT everyone else’s top priority. This will come in handy later on in the trip and is still a skill I’m practicing!
As for the actual flying process, I truly did not feel anxiety higher than maybe 2/10. I actually have found that I prefer flying to being in a car and generally feel pretty safe on the plane. I also HAVE to sit in the window spot because I do notice my nerves revving up when all the windows are shut – maybe a slightly claustrophobic issue? Either way, I had picked window seats for all of my flights and was lucky to have good row mates who didn’t seem to think it was crazy that I spent a good deal of time taking pictures of the sights below.
Although it was a long flight, the time went by pretty easily and I landed in San Jose, CA around 12:00 PST (new time zone woohoo!). I had a couple hours to kill before I could check into 1440 Multiversity so grabbed some lunch and prepped for the next step in the journey: getting an Uber. Now, I’ve used Uber a couple of times before but always with someone else to do the actual work and keep me company in the car. My anxiety level went up to about 4-5/10 as I thought about leaving the little bubble of the airport. Eventually, I decided to grab the blank journal I brought with me to write out my anxious thoughts and make a to do list of my next actions. When it came time to actually book the Uber, it was quick and easy. My driver was a little quiet, but once I pushed the conversation a little bit (it was a 45 minute trip after all), I learned he had been a respected pediatrician in Moscow and that his first language is actually Farsi. He told me about his family in the U.S., how he has the worst English of them all but is trying really hard to get better, and that his grandkids barely have an accent because they were born here. I don’t think he understood what “Vermont” or “New England” are, but he didn’t need to; we had a pleasant (if a little awkward) chat and wished each other well when he handed me over to the 1440 staff. Lesson learned: Put yourself out there and get talking!
The first thing I noticed when I got to the 1440 campus is how GORGEOUS everything is – the redwood trees, unique landscaping, modern rustic decor, walking paths, etc. The second thing was how nice the staff members are and how comfortable they made me feel. My guide showed me a detailed campus map, gave suggestions for hiking spots, and let me know the general schedule for my program. As a Discovery Weekend participant, I was to see a sampling of what 1440 offers with the overall goal of “discovering” something new about myself. After checking into my private room (small but cute!) and doing a thorough review of the schedule (as per usual), I could feel my fatigue setting in, along with the nervousness of leaving what was now my “room bubble” to see what was to await me. I decided to start with a casual walk around the main campus to orient myself with the map, snap some pictures, and maybe jump into a class offering. So that’s what I did!
The class offering before dinner was a Qi Gong introduction that ended up being in the outside amphitheater. I had done a similar class many years ago so it wasn’t a new concept, but I did enjoy the way the instructor discussed energy and movement; plus it was a great way to move around after a cross-country flight!
Dinner was next up and let me tell you – that food was AMAZING! Everything was either grown on site or at local farms, mostly organic, and served with a great deal of care and attention to detail. Did I mention it was also buffet style and you could eat as much as you wanted?
Meal times in a new place are inherently anxiety-inducing and I wasn’t sure if I should try to find a random spot with others or just take some time to enjoy a meal by myself. I noticed there were many others eating solo and I decided to challenge myself to be comfortable with being alone. I figured there were so many sights and sounds to take in and I wanted to focus on the tastes of my food, so took a spot at a lovely wood table at the edge of the porch. Most of the meal time was just fine, but I ended up calling home to check in with my Mom and let her know I was doing well. So I didn’t necessarily do what I intended, but I was still happy with myself for letting it be okay to eat alone AND trying not to just mindlessly scroll on my phone to make me feel less awkward.
We had a couple welcome sessions scheduled, but I was honestly too tired to attend. At that point, I had been awake for roughly 18 hours and the extent of my traveling caught up with me. So, instead of joining the social activities, I took the opportunity to soak in the 101 degree Fahrenheit outdoor infinity tub overlooking the redwood forest (no pics because I didn’t even bring my phone!) and went to bed by 9:00 PST. While I didn’t push through in terms of socializing, I truly felt like it was what my body needed and I was happy with myself for listening to my needs and practicing self care.
Considering the time change, it was no surprise that I was up EARLY – 4:00 am PST to be exact. I was hoping for a really great night’s sleep, but that unfortunately didn’t happen. Now, I am NOT a morning person, so being up before dawn wasn’t my favorite way to start the day. However, I took advantage of the early wake up to attend a meditation session across campus. As with qi gong, I had done meditation before and have been trying to incorporate it into daily practice with only occasional success (it is one of my 30 goals though!). The instructor, Bill, was great and helped explain the science behind meditation and mindfulness and how it can be used to reduce stress related conditions and sharpen focus. Did you know that long-time meditators have brains that are an average of 7.5 years younger than their non-meditating counterparts? Seems like a good enough reason to me to start making my daily goal a reality!
After meditation, we had a delicious breakfast that I also flew solo for. I was enjoying paying attention to my food and trying to keep the mindfulness practice going through my meal (meditation isn’t just sitting on the floor with your eyes closed!), but also getting nervous about the next scheduled activity: a group session for Discovery Weekend that didn’t come with a description.
Now, because I didn’t go to the opening session the night before, I was super anxious about joining the group. What if people thought badly of me for not going? What if friendships had already started to form and I was left out? What if there was something we needed to bring that I didn’t know about? I told myself I could just NOT go and have to deal with knowing any of those answers, that would be the “easy” option after all. However, I made myself walk towards the meeting spot and told myself I would just check out what was happening and I could leave if I needed to. Anxious people always need to have an exit strategy, even if it’s just an illusion to make us feel better…what, we’re complicated!
The meeting spot was another outdoor amphitheater-style space called the Cathedral, which was built around the Mother Tree – a 1,200 year old redwood tree that was a “must visit” according to my initial guide person. I decided to head down to the tree by myself and then see how I felt about sticking around for the session. Depending on your relationship with nature, this may sound entirely reasonable or entirely psychotic, but I felt an ENERGY from being around the Mother that is indescribable – almost like a sudden boost to my inner strength. I had been told that touching the tree is a right of passage at 1440, and in doing so I could see why. Connecting with the tree while staring up (and up and UP) at the tree top and thinking about what that one tree had been around to witness was overwhelming. Given the terrible forest fires going on just a couple hours north, it held particular significance and relevance. I can’t explain how or why, but being around that tree gave me courage and I walked into the group session with my curiosity outweighing my fear.
As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of – the people who were also doing the Discovery Weekend were some of the nicest and most welcoming I’ve ever met. In fact, one of our guides greeted me with a warm hug when I introduced myself to the group and instantly put my mind and body at ease. When I explained why I needed to skip last night’s session, everyone seemed very understanding and impressed that I had travelled so far to get there. The rest of the session pushed me out of my comfort zone through partner activities and personal reflection, but the setting felt very safe and I felt myself loosening up as the couple hours went on. After some private time to journal as we saw fit, we wrapped up with a silent hike through the redwoods towards the main campus. Have you ever tried walking in silence with a group of people? It feels so strange at first, especially to someone very aware of awkward silences like me! I think it was a challenge for everyone, but ended up being a very mindful and almost meditative practice – plus that hike definitely got the blood pumping and ready for lunch!
It turns out we would be preparing our own lunch in the Teaching Kitchen, an industrial kitchen with pretty much anything you could want (that row of stand mixers was like staring at the sun). We worked in small groups to prepare three recipes using the food grown on site or locally, led by a great registered dietitian named Jocelyn. In the end, we had a DELICIOUS meal of zoodles (zucchini noodles, spiralized by us!) with fresh made pesto (no cheese or olive oil, somehow more delicious than usual!), dairy free ricotta, and tomatoes, with an avocado chocolate pudding for dessert. Thank goodness we went home with the recipes! Jocelyn did a great job of giving us nutritional information for everything we made and answered any questions we may have had. As a health coach, I found it really great to hear from another “balanced” nutrition source about current diet trends and the need for individualized strategies. We also got to walk around the onsite garden, which I am very jealous of…someday!
After some free time to just read (and nap), I took a surprisingly intense yoga class and had another delicious dinner, this time with my group mates. Then came the activity I was the most nervous about when I browsed the agenda: Interactive Rhythm Session.
I had no idea what these 90 minutes would entail exactly, but I knew I had that familiar mix of “This sounds really cool” and “I shouldn’t go because I don’t know what to do” thinking that oftentimes ends with me choosing to follow the advice of the second statement. However, I had to remind myself what the whole point of this trip was – getting OUT of my comfort zone and proving to myself that not being “perfect” at something is ok. It helped that by this time I had made friends with my group mates and everyone was expressing a little apprehension about giving the class a try. With that in mind, I made myself walk into the class, sat behind a djembe (traditional drum from West Africa), and got ready to make some music.
I can’t overstate this enough – IT. WAS. AWESOME.
Our instructor, Jim Greiner, was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and set such a feeling of safety and fun. He emphasized the communal history and role of drum circles and how music is a universal language that human beings are hardwired to connect to. His sessions focus on 3 Cs: Communicating, Cooperating, and Celebrating – not something you see in your daily life these days, right? All were present in this session and it only got better as we all loosened up. Sitting turned into standing, which turned into dancing, which turned into laughing, and ended with a pretty magical moment where over 50 people stopped playing simultaneously with just one cue. One man in the audience said the drum session was the first time he’s felt happy in as long as he can remember – that was a pretty powerful thing to hear. It reminded me how much I used to enjoy playing music and especially doing so with a group of people. I remember journaling that night before bed about wanting to find classes when I returned home, so maybe that can be added to the goal list!
All good things must come to an end, and so did my time at 1440. I started the day with a gentle yoga class and yummy breakfast before heading to our last group session. Again, this will probably sound crazy (or “woo-woo” as some would say), but this group session had a transformative feeling about it. In silence, we all walked single file through the campus labyrinth, a stone path on the edge of the forest.
Jim was back to lightly drum a steady beat as we had time think and reflect on our own paths up until this point and where we might take our lives when we reach the “center”, whatever that meant for you. I won’t lie – I was skeptical about all this at first. But as I stepped forward, I got surprisingly overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the literal and figurative steps I had been taking to get there. Here I was 2500 miles away from home, with a group of people who were total strangers 48 hours earlier, feeling comfortable enough to share my experiences and struggles. As a group, we each discussed how the one word we wrote down at the beginning of the program related to us now. The word I chose to work towards was brave and I was certainly feeling much braver than when I started.
If you’ve made it this far – congrats and THANK YOU! Stay tuned to read about the next two days of my trip in Part 2 – The Wrap Up!