Creating Space for Simple, Part II
When we arrived, there was a loaf of bread on the table and fresh chicken eggs in the refrigerator, a welcome gift from our hospitable Airbnb host. Our stay for three nights that week would be inside a quaint wooden farm home painted a dark mocha brown, a home nestled in a storybook valley walled in by white peaks, a snow-melt stream washing out to the blue fjord. We awoke to the crow of roosters and were greeted by curious sheep whose pasture bordered the back of our home. Our mornings consisted of slow: of coffee outside, bundled in a blanket to keep warm from the wind swirling about the valley, of journaling and quiet admiration of the mountains surrounding us.
I took a phone sabbatical, which meant no texts needing a response, no to-do lists needing a check, no emails needing a response, no Insta pics needing a like, nothing required of me in that moment except an awareness, an appreciation of the moment itself.
Our week in Norway consisted of winding drives alongside frozen lakes and snowy peaks to the soundtrack of broody acoustic tunes (and, confession, the occasional One Direction), meanders through foreign streets and stop-ins at local coffee shops, harborside sits with the 10 pm Arctic sun shining bright, unrushed conversation over good meals and wine, kayaking through a fjord past rushing waterfalls, s’mores made over a crackling fire in an iron hearth.
It was exactly this sort of simple that I’d been craving: simple attention to the days, the hours, the minutes at hand; not running down the ever present to-do list in my mind, not thinking ahead to tomorrow, this weekend, next week, not missing out on Life that is right in front of me.
Because that’s where Life is—not in this weekend’s plans for tacos and margs or next week’s job interview or next month’s trip to your best friend’s wedding. Those things will be Life, yes, but not yet, not now. Life is here, right now, right where you are, whatever you are doing. And I wonder how much Life I have ignored, how much Life I have lost as I’ve been so preoccupied with the future, with what’s next?
I am reminded of the T.S. Elliot quote:
"Where is the Life we have lost in living?"
Travel is that gift for me and maybe for you too, the brakes screeching to a stop on a train speeding wildly down the mountain pass. Travel is the chance to ground myself back into reality—not the term that we use begrudgingly with a hint of resentment toward, the reality in our mind that consists of obligations and griefs and alarm clocks—but instead the reality that is Life, that is an acknowledgement of just how fleeting and lovely and magical it is to wake up each morning and be alive with cells in our body acting on their own accord to keep us breathing and thinking and kayaking across a fjord before the outgoing ferry sweeps us away with its high waves (second confession: I did not play it calm and cool in this moment). That’s the kind of reality that travel allows me to experience: a restorative pause, an appreciation of the simple, a wide-eyed wonder at Life.
But how do I bring this simple home with me, pack it away in my carry-on and roll right through customs with? How do I bring simple home to jobs and bills and relationships and a mind that is ready to pick up its worry torch and begin its hurried dash once more?
I don’t know. It’s been one day back, and I’m writing this in my favorite Nashville coffee shop, the one that has been my home for the last two years, and I don’t know the answer to my question.
But I do know some things: often, I’m the one creating my own mind madness.
In Oslo on our final Norway night, after being off the grid for the week, I reconnected in that apartment with Hemingway quotes as wall art; I began scrolling through emails and Instagram photos that I had missed through the week, and I felt that MUST DO ALL THE THINGS RIGHT. THIS. INSTANCE pressure again that has been a recurring theme for me. For the first time that week, my thoughts wandered away from the present moment and the future-focused worries returned to their familiar resting place in my mind.
Of course, there is a realistic need to think ahead, to anticipate, to make plans, but how do you do so in a healthy manner, one that holds loosely to any life blueprints you draw up, any expectations you allow to play out in your mind like a film? Life isn’t only found in quiet Norwegian valleys (unless of course you do, in fact, live in a quiet Norwegian valley), so how do you find it here in your own home?
I’m still trying to figure it out, both in concept and practical terms. But I know that I need less screen time, less compulsive email checking, less mindless scrolling, less time with my eyes lost in a virtual world that isn’t even real, after all.
That’s what simple is: real, and it is Life. Simple starts with the decision to cut away the excess. Simple starts with intentionality.
So in practical terms, I’m challenging myself to intentionally seek out simple in my everyday, not just in my travels to places 5,000 miles away. Here are some of the ways I’m doing this:
Phone-free mornings. No texts, no emails, no social media scrolling as soon as my eyes open. Just coffee, prayer, writing, and breakfast.
Less habitual screentime. No reflexive email refreshing at stoplights or losing myself to Instagram when I’m bored.
More books, less Netflix. A simple goal but truthfully I just lost myself to three episodes of the latest Kimmy Schmidt yesterday while an Anne Lamott book waited tableside for me to open.
More creativity. And not only writing. I’m slowly creating a gallery wall in my room, complete with prints of my favorite quotes and photos from my travels and a map of my favorite place in the whole wide world. Time spent creating is time better spent than consuming 140-character thoughts from strangers.
Yes to margaritas with friends. A couple of weeks ago, I wanted taquitos and margaritas with my friends. But guilt tried to convince me that I should instead be staying home to complete all the tasks that I had let pile up with That First Year. I’m all about being responsible, but at what point are you saying no to Life just so you can get more work done? So I’m challenging myself to say yes more to real things; emails and blog posts can wait. As I tell our writers when they need a deadline extension: life > blog posts.
Flowers. Flowers EVERYWHERE. Simple enough.
I’ll mess up on these goals to seek simplicity; I always fall short of my goals, anyways. But this time, I’ll look to offer myself grace in the fails, and then try again, and again, and again at living a Life that creates space for simple.
Download your free print in 3 (yes, three!!!) different font options!