According to the American Dream, I have it well. I came from an upper-middle-class family, that lived in a large, roomy house. When it was cold, we had the heat on, and when it was hot, we turned on the A.C. I landed a stable, well-paying job within the first year of graduating from university... where my tuition was paid for by scholarships. I've seldom felt incapable or afraid of paying rent, and I've never gone hungry.
I've had my fair share of ups and downs, but all in all, I have lived a good life, a comfortable life, and certainly a life of privilege.
Disclaimer: I realize how saying all of this might sound. I'm not trying to romanticize poverty or hardship, or take my privileged background for granted, or insult those with privilege or wealth… or sound like a barbarian, or a self-deprecating masochist. I'm so thankful for the opportunities I have been given.
However, I have had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind - a complicated sense of lackingthat I have felt for years. I wonder if I were meant for a very different life. In a way, I think we all are - as animals. I feel a tug from a part of me deep down that wants to run away from the systems that have been set in place around me.
I believe that a life of stability and comfort is not the opportune vehicle for growth.
I want less money than I'm making right now. I want a smaller home and fewer belongings. I want less choices. In a sense, I seek a little more discomfort in my life.
Growing up, my family could afford to keep the heat on throughout the winter, and the AC on throughout the summer. I never even thought twice about it growing up, because it was never even a question - it was an automatic response after glancing at the weather forecast.
I've since moved into my own apartment - a much older building, with window AC units and terrible air circulation. It's July right now, so it's hot, and even with the AC on, it rarely gets below 80 degrees. But since I have had to deal with it every day, I have grown accustomed to the discomfort, and I notice it less and less.
Now, I know living in a van will be hella uncomfortable. Our van's AC doesn't work, and I know we'll be exposed to the elements on a daily basis. But I wonder how thick my skin will be after a few months of living in a van during the summer, and what I'll be able to tolerate before I start to feel uncomfortable.
One day last week, I was leaving the office and walking to my car in my usual work flats. They were starting to rub against a blister on my foot that I had formed the other day from hiking...
So I took them off.
And I felt the asphalt on my bare skin under the hot July sun. I felt the warmth and energy flowing into my toes, and I felt so alive.
For the first time that week, my thoughts were on the present. I wasn't counting down the hours until I could be home for the day, going through all the tasks on my to-do list, or worrying about what tomorrow would bring.
No, I was simply feeling the magnificent energy of the heat from the road, and the sun on my skin.
I reflected on this moment of clarity on my drive home, and I was reminded of being on the road last year, and how much time we spent in living in the present. How much time we spent barefoot around the campfire, gazing at the stars. How the hot Arizona sun would warm our tent in the mornings, how unbearable it would become within a matter of minutes, and yet how I jumped out of bed those mornings so invigorated and alert. How often we felt the earth below our feet, or sang at the top of our lungs. How we let the wind whip through our hair as we drove through the Mojave Desert with the windows down, after - you guessed it - our AC broke.
In those moments, I felt more alive than I ever had before, because those moments were lived entirely and fully in the present.
I think everyone can agree they want a simpler life.
So many of the decisions we are faced with on a day-to-day basis are concerning the future. Striving for that promotion, planning for retirement, always thinking of what we have to do next.
But all of that dissolves when you're confronted with a hardship that you have to deal with at that given moment. When your car breaks down on the side of the road in the desert, or you're out hiking and you lose your bearings, when you aren't sure where you're going to sleep that night and are driving around desperately for a place to park and pitch your tent - you aren't considering what will happen a year from now - you are trying to get by in the present. It matters today.
Even if these decisions are tough, scary, and some of them even life-threateningly dangerous, I'm inclined to believe they are simpler, because they belong to now. And breaking through, finding a solution, making it out alive or with just a few scrapes - not only is it so much more rewarding, but I find that you end up learning so much more about yourself, your potential, and your surroundings through them. Experiencing hardship and discomfort is the ultimate teacher.
Every time you grow, your world gets a little bit bigger. Your skin gets a little thicker.
That is why I dream of the "vanlife" - as a vehicle for growth, connection, and mindful living.
Seeking risk and challenge because it will allow me to grow and learn.
Seeking exposure to the elements in order to be attuned to my surroundings. Seeking that connection to my primal roots, and to the earth and her natural cycles.
Living simply with few belongings so I can focus my energies on the things that really matter to me. Living mindfully and intentionally - in the only time that exists: the present.