Small Life, Slow Life: What Parts of Yourself Have You Abandoned?

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If you’ve been thinking that it’s been quiet around here, you’re right.

Life had some pretty dramatic changes for me in the final quarter of 2012, and rather than force myself to write sub-par content to keep my posts regular, I listened to my intuition and stayed quiet while the dust settled.

Now, I have a brand new apartment (that I am completely in love with) and a new routine. The new routine includes at least twenty minutes of daily meditation. Some days, it is a total chore to get to the full twenty minutes. Other days, it feels like I am on vacation while sitting on that beanbag pillow and I never want it to end. Sometimes, I have strange experiences where it feels like these strong currents are coursing through my body, and any pain or resistance I was feeling are removed with what feels like gusts of wind. And other times, it just feels like I’m sitting on a cushion thinking about random things and nothing special occurs at all.

Anyway, along with a big life change comes a lot of uncertainty. The direction I thought my life was heading in was wiped out, and I didn’t know what I supposed to do next. I’d felt this before – when the earthquake occurred in Japan and I ended up back in the States. Life plan? I didn’t even know how to get through the day! But because I got through that, I knew I could get through this uncertain time, I just didn’t think it would take as long as it did.

In the interim (which I lovingly wrote about in Small Life, Slow Life: Stuck in the Waiting Room), I took really good care of myself. I exercised, ate well, took baths, read books, listened to music, put my ass on the meditation cushion. I only spent time with people who really loved me. I wrote nine encouraging love letters to strangers and left them in public places. (“Shit,” I told my friend Marianne, “I wish someone would write me  a letter like this!”)

I basically followed, to the letter, all of the advice I’d dispensed in Small Life, Slow Life: When the Unthinkable Happens. But after several months, there was still this vague nagging that I was supposed to be doing something that I wasn’t doing. Only, I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Life lesson, enter stage left.

My apartment is super sparsely furnished (it fits in with my SLSL mantra so unbelievably perfectly, which I am happy about). My mom was getting rid of her desk and asked if I would want it, which I did. So she brought it over during the weekend, and the rest of my family came along with her.

To my total annoyance, they didn’t show up with just the desk. They also brought a bin, a box and a red suitcase full of my old stuff. Immediately, I complained. “Why did you bring that? Most of it is trash; it would have been easier for me to throw out at your house.” My mom replied that since they were making a trip over, it had occurred to them at the last minute to just bring anything that was mine.

I was a total brat about it and never considered even for a moment that what my family had brought over would end up being of tremendous value to me.

I socialized with them for a bit before the red suitcase mysteriously sitting to my left became too much to ignore. I realized I had no idea what was in it and unzipped it.

Immediately, I covered my mouth with my hand.

Inside was everything that had ever been taped to my walls in Japan. Almost two years ago, my dear friend Angela returned to my apartment in Japan after I’d left the country and carefully packed up most of my belongings and shipped them to me. I had not opened this suitcase since the moment it had arrived at my mom’s house in April of 2011 – it had felt much too painful at the time.

Pictures, letters, drawings from students – all of this came sliding out of the suitcase. It was difficult not to be overwhelmed immediately.

“Oh,” my mom said, clearly sorry, “I didn’t know that was what was in there.” She later told me that had she known there would be such emotional content in the suitcase, she never would have brought it.

I had a similar thought – had my life continued on the trajectory it was, I might not have opened this suitcase for another several years. There would have been no reason to. But I couldn’t deny that I’d put off the task of going through this stuff for much too long. I had shut the door on my life in Japan and was determined to never look back.

And, as life tends to do, here I was – faced with all I’d wanted to avoid.

Long after my family left, I sat on the floor, surrounded by these mementos of my former life.

A letter from my favorite student, Yuta: Ms. Jennifer is my favorite teacher. So…you! I want to speak English because I want to see your smile. 

A letter from Noriko: Ms. Jennifer, I’d like to thank you for your nice teaching for a year. I’ve never been good at studying, speaking English. But Ms. Jennifer’s very nice classes made me love speaking English. I feel a little loneliness because I graduate junior high school and I can’t meet you always. Then, I will continue studying English very hard. 

A note from Misato: I LOVE YOU! Ms. Jennifer, I LOVE YOU! Do you love me? 

The words I’d spoken to Marianne returned to my mind. The letters – the encouraging letters I’d sent out into the world…I’d wished for my own, and there they were.

But it was this photo, taken during my second week in Japan, that really spoke to me:

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In this photo, I have met some of my students for the first time. I would come to know each of these girls by name and watch them grow. They would go from being too shy to speak to me at all to running up to me in the hallways and excitedly rattling off English sentences.

I would change after this photo was taken as well. I would learn the pleasure of taking an entire weekend to sit in bed with endless cups of coffee while reading books, watching movies or skyping with friends. I would learn how strong I could be while I exercised on a yoga mat in my kitchen. I would learn that any sour mood could be quelled by a long walk among rice fields. I would learn that cooking while listening to a RadioLab podcast could make me feel totally blissful. I would learn that adventures were a necessary ingredient to a happy life – and I would take many of them, often spontaneously.

I would learn that my own love was consistent enough, nourishing enough, steadfast enough.

Also, I would look into the eyes of my students and feel their outpouring of love for me. It would take a year, but one winter day I would decide, “I am deserving of their love.”

As I sat on the floor and looked at my expression in this photo, I thought to myself, “Yes, there was something missing from my life recently. Me.”

I don’t regret anything I’ve done since returning to Los Angeles in 2011. That time in my life was very necessary and very healing. It made me into a much softer, less rigid person. I felt a happiness I’d never known before.

But sometime toward the end of last year, the ship was sinking, though I didn’t know why. It seemed to be out of nowhere.

Now I can see times where I tried to shove myself into a role where I didn’t truly fit. I see the ways that I abandoned parts of myself in order to make a ship run smoothly. I see the ways I tried to shrink parts of me in order to make others feel valued. I turned my back on all of the nagging feelings that something about my life didn’t feel like it was my own.

And any time I betray myself, I always end up betraying others too. Which is exactly what happened.

Disloyalty to yourself is disloyalty to everyone. Truly.

It took a red suitcase full of mementos for me to get it.

I’d always described my apartment in Japan as: “This is what it would look like if my brain exploded on four walls.” But that’s not exactly true. My apartment was what it would look like if you shrank yourself down and walked into my heart. Opening the door to one was looking inside of the other.

Adorning the walls were collages, jellyfish, paintings, letters from dear ones. Everything that makes my heart what it is was affixed to those walls. And now, all of that was conveniently in a small red suitcase. (How appropriate.)

You can see one of the walls behind Brent and me in this photo. My entire apartment was decorated this way.

You can see one of the walls behind Brent and me in this photo. My entire apartment was decorated this way.

After a few healthy tears, I selected the most important letters and photos from the box and put them around my new apartment. My fridge is now completely decked out.

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A drawing from the host family I stayed with. It is now taped to my fridge. : )

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One of my walls, decorated with projects from students.

Me with some elementary students. These girls used to knock on my door every Saturday morning and ask me to come play.

Me with some elementary students. These girls used to knock on my door every Saturday morning and ask me to come play.

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A wintry view from my balcony in Japan.

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Hiding out in a heart-shaped ice cave during the Sapporo Snow Festival.

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Sunrise at the top of Mt. Fuji after an excruciating climb.

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Traditional Japanese room with tatami mats.

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A picnic in the park with friends.

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Admiring the lovely (and brief!) sakura blossoms.

We often fear abandonment from our loved ones. And it sucks, it really does. But I’ve discovered, time and time again, that it’s just as devastating to abandon myself.

Each time I remember this, I move forward by bringing a little more of myself to the table. I become a little less afraid to let my entire self show up, flaws and selfishness and all.

A co-worker of mine recently said to me: “You know, I think this whole thing is the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“The best?” I said, shocked.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I know it was painful. But a few of us were talking about it, and we all agree that it was best. You’re so much more…Jennifer St. Germain  than you were before.”

And I got it.

What parts of yourself have you abandoned? How can you reclaim them?

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9 thoughts on “Small Life, Slow Life: What Parts of Yourself Have You Abandoned?

  1. Did I say the last comment?

    I love this..”The art of uncertainty” and learning to live in and with it IS what not only opens up endless opportunity / possibility, but with authenticity to ourselves, we transform these possibilities into reality! (At least that’s my thinking). You don’t need anyone but yourself to make you happy and when you are happy / least expect it, you’ll meet your prince charming.

    I think abandoning the need to be certain about everything, or in control, is the greatest gift we can give ourselves

    Solid, quality post..really enjoyed reading it

  2. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: How I Got My Ex Back. (Seriously.) | small life, slow life

  3. I can’t tell you the flood of emotions that have come over me as I’ve read through your posts. I just suffered a devastating breakup (2 days ago) from the last person I thought would leave me, and I’ve been scouring the internet looking for anything to explain it to me or help me feel better. Your articles have me the clarity and leave I was looking for. I know that my wounds are still very fresh, and this will be a horrible roller coaster, but I actually felt an incredible sense of calm as I read this article and the one about getting back your ex. I realized that I’ve been beating myself up and plotting ways to get him back by “proving” how confident I am and how I can move on, when in reality, I need to accept that one, it’s over and GENUINELY move on with my life; and two, my insecurities and flaws are a part of me that I need to lovingly accept and stop apologizing for. So, I just want to say thank you…this is kind of your letter left by a stranger in a public place. 🙂

    • Shannon,

      This was one of the kindest things that’s ever been said to me. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you. I’m glad that for even for a couple of minutes, you were able to feel a sense of calm. You’re right; it will be a roller coaster, but it doesn’t have to go as low as many roller coasters do. If you can openly face your pain and flaws the way you are already doing, the time of your suffering will only be half as long as many experience. Honesty and the willingness to look at what scares us have this incredible ability of accelerating things beyond what seems possible.

      That said, I know exactly where you are. I know the depth of that pain and the sting of that shock. I wish I could take it from you. Just know that the pain and the shock will become an elixir that, while foul-tasting, will serve to totally transform your life…for the better. It sounds bad, but one day, I SWEAR, you will be beyond grateful that this happened.

      I am truly thinking of you and wishing you swift + full healing. Thank you for your kindness and I know your kindness will be returned.

      I’m here if you need someone. Anytime. ❤️

      Jen

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