Lessons from East to West

I’m currently in the airport waiting to board my flight back to LA. It is delayed by two hours and instead of reacting in my learned New York patterns, I’m choosing to embrace the delay and transform the reaction of annoyance into gratitude. I’m grateful that I have an extra time to reflect on this whirlwind trip back to the city. It is way sooner than I anticipated. I thought I would come back, at the earliest, Christmas. I made the decision to leave New York in the space of a week. I then took the following month to pack up, donate, or toss, all of my belongings, say goodbye to the people and places that mean the world to me individually, and get out of a place I felt was suffocating me. That’s a pretty quick turnaround time for someone who had spent the last five years growing roots and communities and relationships that were meant to tether me to New York. My leaving felt like getting into a huge fight with a significant other and promptly breaking up. It felt like a messy and emotional door-slamming drama, something that is remarkably challenging to come back from. I felt utterly torn apart and beaten down and almost irreparably broken. And it gave me the courage to get out as quickly as I could. So, I slammed the door and only looked back one time when I called my friend and asked him to show me the city from his rooftop six days into my move across the country. From that moment onward, I only thought of all the beauty and wonder and magic that was around me in Los Angeles. Coming back before I thought I was ready brought into sharp focus all of the ways in which I am truly thriving in my new LA life that I have built from the ground up with hard work, consistency, trust in myself, and some magic from the universe. A month later, this is what I have learned from relocating with no expectations just some desires and emotions and baggage (of the literal kind). 

Change your environment. Change your predictions. When I found out I was coming back to the city for an opportunity out of my most spectacular dreams, I had many moments of anxiety. How do you go back to a lover you forced out of your life in a fit of hurt and confusion and deep depression? It’s not easy. I got into my hotel room and cried. I remembered so acutely how heavy I felt since January, how lost and alone and terrified I had been. In that moment, I remembered all of the heartbreak and disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. I then chose to remember a piece of mindset-altering insight from How Emotions are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett. She posits that one of the reasons why relocation is a major feature of the midlife crisis is that our environments have carved deep grooves into our brains that inform the way our brains predict. Place yourself in the same circumstances, in the same place, and your brain will continue to predict in the way that manifests the depression and anxiety and excessive judgement. Place yourself in a new environment and your brain is forced to learn. It is forced to make new predictions based on new input and you have the opportunity to trace different grooves in the brain. Right now, my body and mind and heart have two very present experiences and prediction patterns. One of them is the way I predicted sadness and hurt and disappointment and abandonment in New York, the other is joy and awe and trust and effortless vulnerability that I’ve created in LA. I have the choice to sink into the spiral that I lost myself inside or I can choose to continue on a different and more buoyant way of being by recognizing that what I was feeling is not my current reality. It brings me so much joy to know that the glow I have been feeling since taking myself out of the circumstances that were bringing me down is radiating on the outside. Happiness is hard to hide. 

Do new things as consistently as possible. Part of the incredible nature of the brain is that it loves patterns and predicting. Whatever information you feed it, it will use to predict and create sensation and changes in the metabolic rate that we then perceive as emotion. If you feed your brain new experiences, new knowledge, new places, new people, you can change the way you feel. Coming from a place of looking for anything to make me better, I decided that if I’m in a new city and I now have to power to explore on a whim, I must make a commitment to myself to do just that. Every week, I explore a new part of town, go on a run somewhere I haven’t, drive to a town on the coast, or - hopefully soon in the future - a national park I’ve never been to. New things have a twofold impact. First, they change the way our mind predicts, which impacts that energy expenditure in the body, which sends signals to the brain that we are socialized to perceive as emotions. Second, new experiences remind us of how very small we are, how very vast the world is, and how insignificant any moments of discomfort or challenge are in the grand scheme of this gift of a life we get to live. It is incredibly humbling to realize the these tiny circumstances we have placed ourselves in are just one of many many many ways of being. In fact, the ways of being are limitless and so is the possibility of what we can feel. I have flair for the dramatic, thank you acting school, and so the change in my circumstances needed to be drastic. I also was inhabiting a very low energetic and emotional space that required a seismic shift. Taking a new way to work wasn’t doing it for me. Trying a new class wasn’t shifting my mindset the way I thought it would. Meeting new people, involving myself in new relationships - no matter how fulfilling they continue to be- was only the smallest of bandaids for the larger problem of living in a way that was unsustainable. I needed a complete overhaul, a redo, and I found it in moving and committing to a life of consistent exploration. In that way, I see every side to the story. My perspective is widened. My heart is more empathetic and forgiving of the fact that we are all human, deeply flawed, and just trying to do the best we can out here.

Show up. The rest will happen because you are creating the space for magic. This is the scariest, sometimes most challenging, first step.  We’ve got to show up for anything to happen.  Over my short lifetime, I’ve encountered thoughts and feelings that have told me to hide myself from opportunity.  It is safer to only half-invest the self into something. If it doesn’t work out and all of you is involved, doesn’t that mean that somehow all of you is inadequate?  It feels good to be chosen. It feels good to fit in. There is a sense of belonging that comes from it, but if you have to hide parts of who you are - read: show up as only half of you- then it’s safe to say that is not the place where you belong. So often, what we think we need is actually what we want and that is informed largely by ego. Showing up fully is the first step to letting go of the need for validation from the outside. It is a commitment to being present and allowing the path that is most in alignment with our true selves to reveal itself to us. It’s a strong defense mechanism, only half showing up- or even not showing up at all. Honestly, I am not here to tell you that investing all of yourself into something means that if things don’t work out it hurts less. In fact, quite the opposite. What I do know is that if you don’t put everything you’ve got into what you are doing, you will never be fulfilled.  There will be a part of you, perhaps a small part, that will always wonder “what if”. Very obviously, I have some deep rooted issues with commitment, but I’m learning that those fears stem from commitment issues regarding myself.  I’m not committed to my own happiness or fullness or success. I have not committed to showing up for myself fully, without expectation. The moment I said, “fuck the expectations. Fuck what I think is supposed to happen. Fuck this idea of what happiness should be. Fuck this idea of who I should be,” the world opened up to me. I saw more possibilities, more opportunities, more freedom. 

New York is a place of magic and energy unlike any other city. I was so lucky to call it home for a time. Returning made me realize how ready I was to go and how right this move out West is for me. It's natural to experience anxiety about returning to a place or a person or an experience that carried such weight for a long stretch of time. Fear will tell you to keep running away because confronting the uncomfortable is, at best, a challenge. Most people don't like confrontation. If you return with courage, humility, and no expectations, you may perhaps discover, like I did, that the bad won't last forever. The bad ending doesn't have to define the path of the relationship going forward. Leaving made me realize how deeply in love I am with New York, the people, the energy, the culture, the passion. It will always be in my heart, a place that I can go back to whenever I need to, but it is not my forever home. Whatever perceived wounds I have from that tumultuous relationship are healing beautifully. And maybe, just maybe, they weren't wounds at all. Just the growing pains of one soul trying to expand beyond the confinements of time and space.