My reflections after a ten-day respite in Bulgaria.
I woke to a rooster crowing and the view of tree covered hills for miles and miles. Outside my window sat my sister’s cat, Tormenta (storm), meowing in a familar rythym to my dog’s howls. She was hungry. I rose slowly to open the balcony door to let her in and walk with her down the stairs where she eats fresh fish from a bowl on the kitchen floor. Like any good aunt might do, I often offered her additional snacks of cream and cheese from the refrigerator door.
This was the extent of the tasks I was to complete each day while on my ten day respite in Bulgaria. At times, my sister took on this task, and I kept resting as the sun peeked her head above the hills and shined into my window to say hello. I had not seen my sister since pre-Covid, a time we are all now refering to as “before”. Before lockdowns, vaccinations, violent riots, and limitations to our movements, sat a time where freedom really was another word for nothing left to lose. When I reflect honestly with myself, the last time I felt freedom was camping underneath a mountain in the Gila National Forest in 2020. “The parks are safe”, they told us. I took their word for it and drove with my rescue dog through the west, stopping at various national parks and hidden hiking spots outside the main drag in Sedona. I felt so free with nowhere to be.
This time I would board a plane at JFK airport in New York to Frankfort, Germany and then go on to Vienna and ultamately Varna, Bulgaria. As the lights dimmed on the 747, I suddenly felt like I could breathe for the first time in a long while.
My sister and I sat and talked on her stone covered porch surrounded by grapevines for days, eating grapes from the vines when we pleased. Not a single timer ringing, zoom notification or calendar reminder inserting itself into my presence to tell me that I had somewhere I needed to be. Days slowly turned into nights and it felt like time stood still. I wondered if I could bottle this feeling up and bring it back home.
My sister’s been traveling the world for nearly fifteen years. In that time she has learned at the least, five languages. She has worked on, and sometimes built from the ground up, a minimum of six sustainable farms. She has used nature’s food to heal her body from pharmaceutical ruin that came during her teen years when doctors medicated her for having “too big of feelings”. Most impressively, she has built a community of international family and friends that spans nine countries and three continents. To put it lightly, she’s a badass.
I, on the other hand, have taken a more modern route these last 15 years. I chased a dream of making movies to New York City where I worked three jobs and paged at the Late Show with David Letterman. From there I lived in Chicago and then Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Indianapolis and Austin, Texas. I helped blow up cars on the set of Transformers, ran a film commission, and began building an online coaching company in 2015.
One of the things I noticed first while resting at my sister’s is how allergic I had become to technology in just a few short days of being offline. Each time I picked up my phone to use it my whole body got chills and my eyes became foggy. I did not dare turn on my laptop in fear of having some sort of seizure. I cried when the moon blessed us with her fullness and the wolves cheered us in unison as we finished singing an ad hoc a cappella version of Amazing Grace. I haven’t sang along with my sister in this way since my mother’s funeral. At my mother’s request, sisters three, we learned to sing, “In My Daughter’s Eyes” for her celebration of life.
My sister and I had many conversations about the lives we are both building. We explored the values that drive our behaviors and the patterns that keep us stuck. We moved through generational trauma and helped each other explore new perspectives. We laughed and cried. But most of all, we were completely present. Present. A word I used to think meant purchasing a thoughful gift, and now I understand more than ever that presence is truly the gift of time.
Someone along the way sold us a bill of goods. They told us that we should sell our time. And once done selling our time for pennies on the dollar, we could buy it back later with retirement funds we put away while slaving to the culture they created of disconnect, divide, and illness. They sold us a lie that things might fulfill us more than slow evenings with the ones we love. That busyness is a recipe for success. That money is power. And time? Well they tried to convince us that time is limitless.
But we know better. How do I know we know better? Because according to the data, one in five of us struggles with mental illness. I am not immune to this disease at all. In the last decade I have had at least three dances with depression that brought me to my knees. Sure you can blame the grief of losing my mother so young, but like any good scientiest you have to prove your hypothesis. The more I explored my depression the more I found endless studies talking about food and nutrition and our mental health. The more I dug deep to understand my own mind and make it my friend, the more I learned about antibiotics destroying gut biome and leading to autoimmune disease. When I finished with the data and decided that thoughts, lifestyle and food make or break my mental health I completely transformed my way of living and watched as my mental health was restored.
Sometimes awereness is the only step we need.
Our farmers have been telling us for decades. The chemicals, the complex supply chain, the price of being a slow farmer is too high. From 2021 to 2022 food prices rose 11% according to some studies. And the price of food is not just about the monetary value. The food we are buying is making us sick and that comes at an obvious price. It is a luxury to have the time and especially the money to even consider the food you are putting in your body. The time we used to use to grow our food, source our nutrients locally, and prepare our meals is now sold to corporations and dished out to obligations we are told are what makes a good life.
I have no shame for any of us, just compassion. We are living in a reality that convinces us that this is the way. That we must carry on this way to survive. But I learned something pretty profound out there in the hills of the Balkans. A lesson that has been following me around for quite some time.
There are people living a completely different way. No rushing around from meeting to meeting, no one handcuffed to a computer deteriorating their eyesight. They have small villages where people share crops. They are attuned to the animals and prioritize the nature over themselves. And most of all, everywhere you turn, people are smiling.
Are they without problems? No, certainly not. Nor would I ever want that for myself. I understand that life is full of ebbs and flows. I also love my country, I love what it stands for, and I love my community. I love my neighborhood and my farmer’s market. I love my clients and my business. I have no shame for America and what it has become. But upon returning home from my respite, I do have some wishes and some prayers for all of us.
May we remember that our time was never meant to be sold.
That there is no price worthy of your precious time.
That while we must work to live in our modern world, we must do just that.
Work enough so we can live and not a moment more.
May you walk a little slower and with more confidence knowing that you are the true keeper of your time.
May you allow yourself to rest a little longer when your bones are aching and your heart feels heavy.
And when push comes to shove,
May you remember that all you really have in this beautiful life is your time.
May you wield it wisely and ensure its proper use, and when in doubt, keep more of it for yourself.