The day that I left Indiana I had to pull over to the side of the road after passing the Illinois border to cry. I couldn’t contain myself and didn’t want to swerve into the median or off into the corn. I finally did it.
I always wanted to leave Indianapolis, and for years I put it off. I was so afraid of what the possibility of self-actualization might look like that I was paralyzed. Until that moment I had never been overwhelmed with happiness and I was moved to tears, both unexpected surprises.
The day that I landed in Bali, Indonesia I had the same reaction.
I’ve spent the majority of my life moving from place to place and in a sense I was born a vagabond, though not by choice. I come from a poor family and a desolate part of town where the only way you could be more in dire straights was to be homeless, which we often were. Since I was eight years old I have been searching for that thing that people call home and reaching for it was like trying to hold onto a rock face with a pinky.
I traveled America and parts of South America as a wedding photographer in my mid-twenties, and just seven days before my thirtieth birthday, I uprooted my life, left everything behind, and took a one way road trip to Portland, OR, in search of whatever it was that I needed to find.
I promised myself as a child I would leave Indiana by the time I was thirty and as each day crept closer I felt more and more like I was on the verge of breaking a promise to myself. I had already broken too many promises, and this one I aimed to keep. The pressure of the “what if” kept me trapped in this cycle of fear, but I knew that if I didn’t leave then and there that I would be forever stuck in Indiana. What most people don’t realize about Indy is that just as much as it is surrounded by corn and cows it’s surrounded by murder and crime. I needed something else.
I chose Portland because it was at the time it was the only major city in America that I didn’t know anyone, not a soul. I was in need of a full-life reset and the opportunity to fully own and acknowledge who I was. I felt like I couldn’t do that anywhere else in The States. It’s not that I didn’t have the support of amazing people or the ability to go anywhere I wanted, but I needed to go to a place where everyone didn’t know my name. I was hitting the eject button on a version of myself that I no longer choose to be and perhaps I was misguided but it seemed that being in familiar environments would not give me the space to level up.
My time in Portland was so incredibly profound in a healing way. The city in all of its quirkiness and at times disillusion gave me the space that I needed to fully realize what I needed in my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. My journey was not only about discovering new parts of me, it was also about taking the broken pieces and putting them back together.
In a few years time, I made friends who are closer than family, dined at the best food trucks, swam in the coldest waters, and rode my bike thousands of miles. Portland was everything that I needed it to be at the time that I needed it, but something still felt off. Something was just not right.
The night that the universe decided that my time was up in PDX was July 2, and I was camping deep in the depths of Mt. Hood when I had an encounter that would forever change the direction of my life. I had been a Boy Scout and was more than familiar with navigating the great outdoors. I knew how to start a fire with a flint, catch a fish with a shoe string, and how to navigate the sky. I even knew what to do when approached by a feline in the wild.
Dusk was approaching in the vast wilderness of the Oregon landscape and the scent of the smoldering campfire and aluminum foil packets of garlic potatoes and chicken devoured the breeze of the cool summer night. My friend and I sat around the fire playing Uno when I had the most eerie feeling. Something was wrong.
My spidey senses were on high and I knew that I had to see what was causing my brain to go into hyper-vigilance. In a fraction of a second I went from the most relaxed I’d been in months to being on high alert like the days of my youth which involved drug deals, guns, and running from the cops. The high of jumping fences as police chased me through the back streets of Indy had been unmatched until this moment.
I headed towards our tent and grabbed my small handaxe and flashlight. Something told me that we were in danger. I headed behind the tent and the blue haze of the night sky was hidden by the giant trees on either side of the creek bed that we were next to. The difference of ten yards was light and blackness. I could only barely make out what was in front of me. It was the shaking of the Earth beneath my feet that narrowed my eyes dead ahead. That’s when I saw the mountain lion. My adrenaline raced and I knew that I was looking death in the eye. I had faced death multiple times in my life, but this was the first time that I truly believed that I was going to die.
I stood at the ready, ax in hand. The pounding of the lion’s footsteps reverberated through my body shook me to the core. Each stomp in the dirt beneath us sounded like a building toppling to the ground. A quickly as I saw her she began running toward me at a full sprint. I knew that I would have one opportunity to strike it with the ax that I had firmly yet desperately gripped in my right hand. I knew from scouts and nature documentaries that I had to get as big as I could, make as much noise as I could, and hope that I was able to out-alpha the alpha. There was no room for mistakes and if the lion came within range I would have one shot to take it out. If I missed I would be dinner for a pack of hungry beasts. It drew nearer. 15 yards, 10 yards, 5 yards. And as I drew my hand back clutching the ax and screaming at the top of my lungs the lioness turned left and sprinted up the hill next to us. In the small space between her and I the dust settled and I stood victorious, at least for a moment.
I ran back to the campsite once she was out of site and in record time get the hell out of dodge. Every time I closed my eyes for the next two months I saw the dark menacing shadow of that beast. Later that fall a hiker was mauled and killed by mountain lion not far from my encounter.
Again I had escaped an impossible situation. There must have been a reason.
A few weeks earlier Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in France. It was suicide. I understood why and though I was heartbroken, I could relate, because in 2011, I was in his shoes. There was something about Bourdain that always invigorated me. Maybe it was because he escaped or maybe it was because he was always moving towards things that fulfilled him. Either way, I craved what he had and since I could no longer live vicariously through him I felt that I had to start move thoroughly living through myself. As a kid my grandmother and I would watch his shows on cable and she would always say how she wished that she could travel the world. I too had that wish.
The universe seemed to be egging me on and screaming in my face “Go now! Do not wait!” and it was high time I listened.
There were so many factors in the few months leading up to my departure from PDX. I was dealing with the recent murder of my childhood best friend and couldn’t escape how guilty I felt for getting out. I felt guilty about all of my friends who had been taken by the streets of our youth. He wasn’t the first nor the last, but his death hurt the most. Then there was Bourdain. And in the midst of all of this I was the happiest and healthiest that I had ever been. My life was as good as anyone who grew up like me to hope to have. There was nothing that I longed for or needed. I was surrounded by amazing people, had a great career working for a company that I truly aligned with, and felt embraced by Portland despite the things we disagreed on. But I felt like I was supposed to be doing something else. Something was still missing and I knew what.
When I began to tell everyone around me that I was leaving Portland and moving to Asia I was faced with ridicule, confusion, and the question of what was I running from. The people who got it were the people who had done what I was doing. They had stepped into fully realizing something that was true for them. The ones who packed the bag, hopped on the plane, and took the chance were the ones who understood that I wasn’t running from anything but instead running toward me.
Understanding who I am was the thing that I had been trying to do for my entire life yet I had always gotten in my own way because of my behavior and the lies that I told myself. I lied to myself about being happy or content knowing that there was something somewhere out there that I was supposed to be a part of.
I always felt the most alive when I was jetsetting. There was a freedom and excitement that came with walking through airports, seeing the ground fade into the distance from my seat behind the wing of the plane, and the adrenaline that shot through my body each and every time we safely touched down in whatever new and unknown place I had just arrived. Those feelings of excitement had long since dissipated as I discovered more and more of America over the years. I had seen it all from JFK to LAX, ORD to MIA, and everywhere in between, and though those places all had bits and pieces of uniqueness, it was still the USA and I ached for something more.
I spent the next 6 months popping around Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. I ate the street food, got lost in the mountains, meditated at the temples, got blessed by the monks, faced my fear of the ocean, lived on an island, fell in love with the adventure, practiced Muay Thai, fought in a ring, almost drowned, ate pho 239 times, ran from the cops (again), and learned to enjoy the process of being alive.
The best part is that in this short period of time I discovered trust in the people around me. It is the amazing connections, culture, and friendships along the way that have made me realize what is truly most important in life. It was the people that made me know that synchronicity is real and the universe brings you what you need and just when I thought I had enough of Asia, Bali called.
The way the sun beamed into the plane as I flew from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Bali reminded me of the day that I left Indiana. Everything felt like it was supposed to and tears that streamed down my cheeks told me that was true. I was once again realizing a part of me that I so desperately wanted to understand and take a hold of, but this time it would take a few months to realize. I wanted those feelings and experiences of being lost, figuring it out, and challenging myself to get really uncomfortable. That is exactly what I had found because not only did the universe beckon me to make one more stop before popping to Europe, but my friend Ryan pestered me ad nauseum to come to Bali. Literally, I’ll show you the texts.
Here is what I knew about Bali before landing at DPS: Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, let’s cringe together. Respect to the author, but there is so much more to this place than that film or book relays, and I feel so incredibly fortunate that I have been able to discover it.
What I have learned about Bali in the last four months is that this place is a mecca, not much unlike Portland, and people flock to her for a better understanding of themselves, to work, to grow, to love, to find whatever that thing is. That’s not to say that there are not a bunch of people here pretending to be the person that they want to be, but more than not there is beauty, grace, generosity, vulnerability, and honesty here in ways in which I have never known.
Mama Bali is a place of compassion and consequences, and just like everywhere it has its flaws, but for me it’s become home. It’s the streets, the heat, the food, the culture, the feeling of ease and peace, and harmony that I love. It’s the ceremonies, the depth of character, and the draw of hope that has embraced me like a lover, friend, and companion that give me satisfaction when I lay my head down at night. I’ve always been seeking this concept of home and I have finally found it. Maybe it’s timing or maybe it’s the understanding that I have of myself in the world that has brought me to this place, either way I know it’s where I am supposed to be for and when that changes I will continue on the adventure of better understanding myself in the world.
From homeless to Bali, from suicidal to helping others get out of The Vortex and Think Unbroken, I am the sum total of all of my experiences leading up to this moment and with each passing second I change and I grow. Just like the seasons each day I am a new me that is built on the foundation of all of the things that happened before. It was a new foundation that I so desperately sought.
If you build a house on a volcano it will be engulfed by the molten lava, that was true of my life until six years ago. I had to rebuild my foundation and I’ve done so through strength, risk, understanding, and hope that somewhere out there something would make sense, but none of that came without action and mindset. There were a lot of cues and people who pushed me along the way, but I could have easily dismissed them all. If I would have done that then I would still be spinning in circles wondering what if.
Everything we do is a decision and everything we feel is a choice. Mindset + Action = Self-Actualization. Home is where the mindset is but you don’t get there without the first step.
Artwork by Summer Mei Ling Lee, Les Preuves Fatiguent La Verité, 2010. Cremated bird fired into porcelain egg.