For much of my life, my identity was wrapped up in achieving (more accurately, overachieving) and caring for others. Though neither professional success nor the genuine desire to help others are bad, “Am I enough?” kept popping up. Just me. Not the me who cares for people or the me with a killer C.V., but rather some core part of me that exists at a deeper level than these things I do. What about when I am just being?
My journey from “I am not enough” to radical self-love took me on a solo backpacking adventure through Europe. What better way to practice trusting in my enough-ness than to spend three months exploring my inner landscape (while taking in some beautiful external landscapes)? As I prepared for this trip with intentionality, the old voices fought back: “You’re being too self-indulgent.” “You should be more dedicated to your career.” “You could be doing countless more “productive’ things.” I also feared the amount of time I would spend in solitude: “What if I am unbearably lonely?”
Challenging these voices and setting out alone took courage and an adventurous spirit, as it was no small feat for this recovering overachiever to leave North America without knowing the route she would travel or where she would hang her hat each night. It also took copious amounts of self-love.
Self-love led me to an incredible vista in Cinque Terre National Park, trusting my intuition’s suggestion to finish a hike alone, rather than with some fellow hostellers. Gazing at the Mediterranean, I realized that this moment was no less beautiful for not having someone by my side. I could celebrate and witness it for myself.
Self-love challenged my worship of doing and allowed me to rest in countless funky cafés and gorgeous parks. As I became more self-assured, the old voices needed to find new guises: “Why don’t you study a language or seek meaningful volunteer work?” “Now that you’re in (name of European city), you’ll need a highly detailed agenda.” “You’ll be returning home soon and you haven’t figured out your entire life’s path/attained spiritual enlightenment.” Acknowledging those voices as patterns that no longer served me, I smiled and wished them farewell.
Taking language classes or volunteering would have made my trip more familiar; however, the purpose of this journey was not to be at the top of my beginner Italian class. Nothing needed to be done “when in Rome,” except remain present in each moment and trust it was enough. My journey took me from actions of self-care to a rooted foundation of self-love, a belief system in which I am worthy of the same love that I extend to others. Actions of self-care are nothing but items on yet another “to do” list until prompted by a genuine belief in one’s worthiness of their pursuit.
Before leaving Canada, I wrote myself a letter for each week of travel, reminders of my intentions for solo traveller Liz. It seemed fitting to end the trip in a similar fashion, and so I spent a good part of my final day writing a love letter:
“I am writing to you from a pretentious Parisian café. Life won’t always feel this beautiful and effortless. The joy that is bubbling over within my spirit will at times seem silent. I’m writing to you to tell you about me, and remind you that the me I am today is within you. Remember me, eyes spilling with tears of joy and pride, beaming, overflowing.”
Each day since my return has not felt as effortless as that day. However, my experience of myself while travelling is equally true: empowered, intuitive, self-loving and present. Life invites us to live fully, lovingly, courageously, no matter what our surroundings. I’m inviting you into the spirit of this journey, to remain in the present wherever life leads you next. How will you live fully and with self-love today?
Elizabeth (Liz) Mitchell is a music therapist who works with adolescents with mental health issues in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Curious about the links between musical potential and human potential, she is also a voice and piano educator, and a clinical supervisor and part-time instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Photo credit: la citta vitta