Not Just Any Old Mid-Year Review

Today marks the beginning of the second half of 2011. For many of us, that means it’s time for more boring (or this year maybe even scary) financial and personnel reviews at work, budget reviews at home, and, for the really brave, a check on the progress of those New Year’s Resolutions. (What were those again?) Blech.

What I really want is an accounting of where the first six months of the year have gone. Seriously! Time makes no sense to me any more. It comes and goes and in a blink a whole ‘nother month has vanished. I want June back! Some truly awesome and rewarding things have happened for me in the first half of this year, but they are taking their toll. I am about maxed out with stress and from the creep of my professional life into what I would like to think of as my private life, and I have a whole list of goals for this year that I haven’t even begun to aim toward.

As I am preparing to release a memoir of my experiences during the largest cross-country bicycle event in U.S. history, I now recognize that my biggest, truest goal is to learn to be the Traveler without ever needing to leave home; to be always present and aware of newness and beauty wherever I am; to be my best self in the midst of my life, whatever that life entails at the moment.

At the same time, I really do want to travel more. I joined Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel this year, and have racked up more than 100,000 airline mileage points for myself and more than 50,000 for my husband in the last two months alone. There is a serious trip in my future–I just don’t know where or when yet. (Chris would advise that you have a destination and a timeframe in mind as motivation before you begin travel hacking, but my motivation to Go! and See! and Learn! seems to be all I need.)

I have this sense that I should go into the world to write about environmental issues and amazing places and good work being done by people who inspire me. But do I really need to go to Borneo or Costa Rica or Belize to do that? Can’t I find plenty to keep my inquiring mind busy and my bleeding heart satisfied without leaving my own community? Wildness is everywhere if you look hard enough, and good people do good things every day of the week in towns and cities all around my own country, my own state. And yet, I am driven to experience new places and people, and, maybe more importantly, to experience myself in new situations and locations. The craving to be on the move is getting stronger the farther into my past the Big Ride Across America slips. (I daydream daily about being able to do the week-long “Mountains to Coast” Cycle NC ride in October, even though I know full well all of my vacation time will be gone before fall even begins.)

So, as I look over the impressive (if I do say so myself) but short list of things I’ve accomplished this year and the considerably longer list of things I have not, I am faced with several questions. How do I recognize and express what is already contained within while also seeking to learn more? How do I both “be the traveler without leaving home” and build a life that places more significant emphasis on travel and adventure? At the moment, I have absolutely no idea.

At the library last week I stumbled upon the book A Year to Live by Stephen Levine, and to complicate things further – in order to, ultimately, simplify things – I have decided that today is the beginning of my 365-day mindfulness experiment in living as if this were my last year on Earth. The hope of Levine’s book, I believe, is to help you face your fears about death – and about life – so that you can live fully awake in each moment that you are blessed to be alive. This includes increasing your capacity for gratitude, for forgiveness for yourself and others, and for weathering uncertainty with grace, as well as being aware of (but not necessarily reacting to) the various emotions and urges that drive behavior and shape experience. I am hoping the process will help me act more frequently from an urge toward freedom and joy and less from an aversion to discomfort and fear.

I have read a little more than half of the book and I have been struck by so many lovely, simple-sounding phrases that seem so elusive, my favorite of which is “we rest in being.” Wow! What must that feel like? Bye-bye to-do list, today I am resting in being. Sounds heavenly! (I know, someone out there is saying, “You’re missing the point! You can rest in being while you knock out the to-do list!” But I’m fried right now, and the luxury of “just being” is so appealing, regardless of the fact that I probably have no friggin’ idea how to actually participate in such a state.) The sentence that sparked this particular post, however, is:

This is the big dream in which we are awake to the nature of our sleepiness, and know that our life is not defined by its experiences but by the heart that receives them.

Doesn’t that just about say it all? This tension between the ego’s emphasis on experiences and the heart’s emphasis on being open to whatever comes fascinates me and seems completely worthy of a year’s exploration.

Last night, as I was preparing to begin my new, only year, I could feel myself begin to pull away from the idea: I’m so exhausted right now, maybe I should put this off until next month after I get back from the festival? Or maybe even until September after I do the Ride Without Limits? It would be nice if I could give such an important experiment my full energy and attention, and now is really not the time for that. Wow. I hadn’t even been given the one year to live “sentence” yet, and already I was trying to postpone facing the possibility of death!

I quickly realized, however, that people who are truly going to die this year don’t get to put off their last year until it fits conveniently in to their work schedule or until they have the energy to deal with it. And putting this off would mean continuing to live much the way I have been: tired, frazzled, motivated by fear at least as often as by joy, and constantly in a state of striving. It would mean putting off facing real fears and continuing to live in a swirl of conflicting ideas about who I am and who I “should” be. A year of living mindfully, I’m thinking, might go a long way toward helping me gain clarity about what direction my life should take next.

And so, today, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn to live this year fully. As Mr. Levine might suggest, it’s time to catch up with my life.