From Oprah, to Dr. Phil, to the myriad of self-help books and motivational speakers, clearly people are searching not just for spiritual truth, but for that je ne sais quoi that would bring meaning to one's life. That life's purpose may or may not be tied to one's religious convictions, but it's a well in need of filling in many people's lives.
I'm no exception. I dare say, however, that I'm a lot closer to fulfilling that longing than many, at least in the Western world. Now, to say that I'm closer simply means that I have a vague idea of what it would take for me to be fully at peace and content with my life, not that I've already arrived at such a state of mind.
For starters, I realize that it's a state of mind. Happiness is something I have to make up my mind to be. I have some ideas as to where I see myself in 5-10 years, but while I'm working on that plan, I have to be satisfied with good enough for the time being.
Here's how the following are playing into my leading a fulfilling life.
I recently embraced the fact that when it comes to my spiritual-religious beliefs, I'm a deist. I believe in a creator-God, and I believe in some form of life after death. I am content with this minimal level of knowledge and belief. It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to think of worship as anything that involves being in awe of God's great masterpieces, both in nature and via human ingenuity (which comes from God, imho). I no longer worry about doing things to please religious "authority" figures, or even others who walk around holier-than-thou. I do the best I can, and when I stumble, I pick myself up and drive on. I no longer feel the incessant need to try to figure out the inner workings of the universe, and it's soooo freeing!
I see this as a work in progress, but boy have we gotten to a point where I'm really starting to see the potential, which is only motivating me to keep it going. I've pared down my wardrobe, donated hundreds of books, and have had an ongoing plastic bin that we keep filling with various items from around the house that we decide are not essential to our joy. With every trip to Goodwill (and recently even a few items sold on Craigslist!), I can actually feel my home environment expanding to bring to the surface further items that need not be collecting dust any longer. I hope to be in a place of maintenance by the time we get settled in our new home, which we expect to be sometime in the next year.
It has given me great pleasure and fulfillment to focus so intensely on my relationship with my daughter over the past year and some change. Now that she's a toddler, it's a bit challenging to juggle her continued need - and my continued desire - to keep our attachment to each other strong and secure, and to help her along the way of independence, as is my role as her mother. We are moving ever so slowly towards gentle discipline (as in instructing and guiding, NOT punishment), while still enjoying the AP basics of breastfeeding, cosleeping, and baby-wearing.
We technically have several more years of parenting before we add homeschooling to our official repertoire of responsibilities, but since I take a long time to adjust to anything, I'm liking the idea of slowly introducing aspects of preschool activities into our daily routine. I'm researching age-appropriate developmental milestones and how to best encourage them, and I'm trying out different ways to give Maya the opportunity to explore the world around her in new and interesting ways. My biggest challenge will be to establish some sort of regular contact with other children, but that is on my horizon, along with daily (at least every other day!) time in the great outdoors.
I feel as though we've fallen off the wagon a little in our time living in an apartment, but that's mainly because we aren't currently composting. We still always have more recycling than trash to take out, and we always consider reusing what we already have before purchasing something new. This also works well with our minimalist aspirations. But more than that, I absolutely love line-drying our laundry, as it brings back lovely memories of my own childhood and gives Maya a way to help me out, even at such a young age of 13 months! Next on my agenda is completely eliminating store-bought cleaning supplies and focusing on baking soda, vinegar, and whatever other natural ingredients I can use to make my own concoctions. I'm not there yet. What's even more urgent is starting to grow some of our own edibles. I've never had a green thumb, and as much as I hate to waste (both money, time, and stuff), I don't like to take risks with growing something I'm afraid will only end up in the garbage. But it's on my list.
RECONNECTING WITH HUBBY
Our marriage has taken a back seat since the birth of Maya. Yet to Alex's credit, he has never once held it against me or complained about coming second in my life. He understands that this is a phase of life, and that he had 15 years of just me-and-him time, and once Maya is a little more independent and will enjoy spending time alone or with friends, we'll have our time back. It takes a real secure man to be able to put his own needs on hold while his daughter is getting her needs met. This is only a testament to my good taste ;) But seriously, when I look to the future, I see us together, as Alex said on our first date at the Post Exchange, "Just you and me, babe, on top of the world!" Only now we'll also have our little Maya the bee to bring smiles to our faces.
So, how do I envision this authentic life that I'm working towards?
For starters, we need to move. We need to live somewhere where the cost of living is drastically lower, and the pace of life is much slower. While we are blessed that Alex no longer has to work more than the usual 40 hour week in order to support our lifestyle, it is still not ideal. And that's what I'm talking about here - the ideal. I feel best after a nice weekend spent just the three of us, and truly, what I want for us is to be able to bring that level of closeness and togetherness to at least 50% of our weekly life. Perhaps an online business or if I ever get around to selling my books (and writing more), or better yet, passive income in the form of real estate. There is no reason that only those who are currently rich should be the only ones to enjoy the time that affords them with their loved ones and pursuing their passions. But the truth is that it takes money to make money, and so we find ourselves in that stage of the planning.
For the longest time, we've talked about "early retirement", but that was only because we couldn't imagine working at our jobs forever. But what if the activities for which we get paid aren't drudgery at all? Then there's no reason to stop and "retire"! So with that definition in mind, we have just over 10 years to get all of our ducks in a row and get to a place where we can be living the life we've dreamed of.
That life includes travel, or perhaps just living abroad where we feel we're on vacation! A Mediterranean climate is a must for that to happen! This is why homeschooling is a no-brainer for us. Well, it's one of the reasons. We are not going to be slaves to the school system's schedule for living our lives. There's only that pesky question of income sufficient to support our lifestyle (which by no means is to be extravagant. We don't want a big house - we actually are having a real hard time finding something as small as we'd prefer! We don't care about the latest electronic gadgets (well, maybe Alex a little, but even he is reasonable in that department). And while I know I mentioned travel as an ideal, I also realize that this takes money, which is why I suggested settling in a vacation-like destination. (No, not Florida, btw!)
That authentic life that I envision involves lots of nature, but still close to civilization. A moderate climate with four seasons is fine, but a year-round summer would be ok too if it didn't involve excessive humidity. Being able to not only have wonderful, breathtaking views, both from our windows and just from a short distance down the street, but also being able to actually be in that nature, to feel a part of it, to touch the natural world without taking anything but photographs and leaving nothing but footprints! Listening to the silence, or the waves crashing against the shore, or the wind in the branches, birds singing. A life conducive to meditation would be ideal for me.
For Alex, a social life would be ideal. The ability to have shops and bars and restaurants just a short drive - if not walk! - from home. Being able to enjoy the nightlife - not in the form of late-night drunken fests, but by watching a town come alive when the sun goes down. You meet different people at different times of the day, and we like to keep it diverse!
To be honest, as I'm writing this, Andalucia, Spain comes to mind. We only visited there once, for our honeymoon a decade ago, and yet.... either Spain or a place just like it!
The ideal way we envision getting to our dream is by first establishing passive income from a rental property, which would ease our worries over finding work at our destination right away. To get there, we must first be completely in the black in our finances. We still have my student loans to pay off, and we're about to take on paying for Alex's going back to college. The latter is a must to open up opportunities for him to be able to find work similar to what he's doing now but outside the government. So while he's in school, we won't be able to pay off my loans completely.
We were hoping to get into a mortgage with a monthly payment that is several hundred dollars per month less than what we're paying in rent at our apartment, but alas, this isn't looking as promising as we had hoped. The homes that are newly renovated, or even just simply move-in ready, tend to be in really crappy neighborhoods - dirty, with shady characters loitering on the streets, bars in people's windows also tell me crime is a concern. On the other hand, the good neighborhoods are full of homes that need a lot of work - read money - before they can really be considered livable. And I watch House Hunters - we are not being too picky. We don't care about the color of the paint on the walls or if the kitchen appliances are outdated. We do care about water damage or lead paint though!
That is, if we strictly stick to the budget we set out for ourselves, which would allow us $300+ monthly savings, leading to a quick (6-7 years) pay off of my student loans. But as I said, alas, it is not meant to be. We have to make a lateral move if we are going to get the ball rolling on that rental property. It makes no sense to be throwing money away by renting if we could be working - albeit slowly - towards paying down a mortgage.
In the meantime, we will be able to truly make our surroundings our own. I miss the color walls we had in our house. I hate the popcorn ceiling AND WALLS that we have now! And while I absolutely love our one-level living and specifically the layout here, it's a pain to go for a walk down the stairs with a stroller (so I almost always wear Maya in a carrier, but there have been times when my back wouldn't allow it, or we were walking to the farmer's market and I needed the stroller to do the heavy lifting of the groceries). Even when driving for groceries, carrying them and Maya at the same time up a flight of stairs is getting old. Yet would I really want to live in a ground-level unit, where there's so much traffic from cars parking and people walking that I'd never be able to have my window shades open? No privacy and I wouldn't feel very safe either.
And so, our journey must start even under less than ideal circumstances. We are working to pay off all of our debt (like I said, we only have my student loans at this time, and we'll be adding a mortgage), so that we can begin to live in a way that will feel like living, not just surviving from day to day. And - this is very important - as our parents enabled for us by the sacrifices they made, so too we must continue to pass on economic wisdom to Maya to make sure she doesn't make the mistakes we made in our early adulthood by incurring unnecessary debt. (I consider most of my student loans as unnecessary debt as well. But that's another topic.)
I'm looking forward to this change. I think it will be in the right direction.