In 2018, I took a vow of no shopping. In this series, I discuss the challenges of kicking my materialistic habits, my efforts toward a simpler, happier life, and everything that happens in between. If you're interested in what inspired me to start this journey or wonder what I have bought so far this year, please check out my Year of No Shopping page. These pages will never contain affiliate links and will never be a sponsored post.
Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them. – Bruce Lee.
If the theme of the last Year of No Shopping update was self fulfillment, this one will be self scrutiny.
Back in early March, my husband and I spent a long weekend in Coconut Grove, FL with some family members. Though I tried my best to pack what I thought I would need, fate and circumstance had other plans. Around that time I had started a new vitamin B12 supplement and failed to properly read the label, which would have informed me I was getting way more B12 than I needed. This overdose of B12 was causing my T-zone skin to break out in cystic acne, my cheeks to dry up like it was 7 degrees below, and my head to pound day and night. I was a complete mess, and it took me four days of this nonsense to figure out why. Considering the heat and humidity of Miami, it did not occur to me that I might desperately need a moisturizer. I bought one on the fly at a Walgreens just outside Miami, and it made me want to smack my head against a wall. The next day the sandals I brought for my trip fell apart as I was walking down the street, leaving me with one pair of worn flip flops. The day after that, I reached in my bag for a sun hat that I’d forgotten to pack. At this point, I was flat out angry about how grandly I was failing at being prepared (one of my signature traits). After my mini freak out, I took some deep breaths and realized, I am so privileged to be in this beautiful place next to all these people who love me. Even as I write this, I can see how petty my concerns are – having youthful skin, wearing old shoes into a nice restaurant, having a nice hat for my beach photos. They sound like the complaints of an ungrateful and small person.
In the weeks following this trip, I have found myself breaking my own rules about online shopping over and over again. I may see some workout clothes that a friend just bought on social media and sneak over to the retail site for a quick peek. Months afterward, I am still getting ads for that site featuring the items I viewed. Stop being creepy, Facebook! You’re gross. I might be reading an interesting article about sustainable technologies or camping or spiders and then before I know it, I am somehow on Amazon. Did I just black out? Though I am only “shopping” for a brief moment, each time I do it feels like a little defeat. It was getting so bad that at one point I had convinced myself I deserved a new fancy yoga mat and was ready to pull the trigger when I received some tough love from a friend. Though I hadn’t seen her in a while and she’d been going through some real shit herself, she still had the wisdom to remind that this sort of challenge was what my Year of No Shopping was all about. She’s such a disciplined, rock solid individual.
I’m not proud of these thoughts or these actions, but I am steadily learning to turn my eyes toward the parts of me I don’t like instead of away from them. I will always be working toward a place where more of my actions align with what I know to be true and sincere.
With all this self-assessing going on, I can’t help but also consider my website. While trying to connect with some old high school teachers, I came across this blog called The Wander-filled Life. It’s run by two teachers who spend their summers traveling on a budget. I was so impressed with their dedication to taking photos that are as close to real life as possible – limited filtering, no photo-shopping – and it made me wonder if I was running this blog following my own principles. I had originally intended for this website to be a portfolio, a place where I could share good and honest stories with people, where one day I could get enough momentum to generate income through my writing. With the small community of readers I have, I want them to curl up with their cup of coffee and feel the excitement I feel when I visit a new place or discover a new idea. It is shocking how often content creators sneak advertising into their work, and though I respect the hustle, it’s the same type of advertising that is disrupting my Year of No Shopping. If I keep using it, I’m a big fat hypocrite.
With all that in mind, I am making it a policy not to sneak affiliate links into any of my written content (like this post) where I receive compensation for referral purchases of products. I will also make sure they are removed from any archived pages. If I do include an affiliate link somewhere, there will be a notice and I will do my best to to make it clear the link is taking you to a product page. As always, I will limit any links to products to those that I know will be helpful or enhance a reader’s experience. As Leslie Odom Jr. said at his book signing this month, “when something rubs up against your integrity, you have to own your ‘No.’”
Though I’m struggling with this challenge, I did use my newfound freedom from shopping to do some pretty cool things. I’ll end this update on a positive note with some of my adventures in February and March:
An unavoidable reality of every long-distance trip is you have to stroll down this shiny tiled path....
....before you can stroll down this one.
Though I have been in and out of airports more times than I could count, I still feel a sudden rush of anxiety whenever I walk through those massive sliding doors. It's normal to feel some level of fear before travel. After all, you are putting yourself into a situation without all the tools you want to navigate a new environment. (Keyword: want) Airports pose some unique challenges. As someone who is naturally attentive to the feelings of others, airports can be a minefield of stress and fatigue. It seems almost an inevitability that I will witness at least one full grown adult completely lose all sense of compassion and respect for other people while walking through our local airport. Rather than accept their lack of control and make measured, adjusted decisions to their changing circumstances, some men and women allow their emotions to burn through them, often causing strain on their minds and bodies and contributing to the suffering of others around them. It is frustrating but enlightening to witness a sudden flight cancellation. Those who understand the power of acceptance are on the phone with customer service right away getting their flights rescheduled. Those who react to the situation are (literally) running in circles, screaming at the poor airline staff members, and arguing with their own loved ones on a family vacation.
Don't be the screamers.
Whether you are just getting into meditation like myself or have had a consistent practice for years, the airport is the perfect place to explore mindfulness. In fact, I'd prefer if it was a prerequisite. You don't have to be a Buddhist to reap the benefits of Zen meditation, and I am certain there is a place for breathing and stillness in the chaos of air travel. Before I share some practical tips, let's acknowledge the most painful parts of flying.
There are many aspects of air travel that contribute to this high-stress environment. When I asked some friends and coworkers about their top three struggles with air travel, many of them mentioned problems like cancelled/delayed flights, outrageous change fees for rescheduling flights, expensive tickets, location of the airport in proximity to their home and lack of overhead luggage space. These are certainly some of the worst parts of air travel, but they are the result of corporate policies, the pressure to turn a profit, and the oligopoly of the airline industry. Though you could certainly write or tweet to an airline's customer service department or negotiate a waiver for certain fees over the phone, I would lump these issues into the "out of my control" category. Other issues mentioned included some airport-specific issues like chaotic and disorganized security checkpoints, pricey restaurants or shops, and a lack of ride-share transportation. My friends were 100% accurate that all these things 100% suck, but the good news is that most of them can be anticipated. The other good news is that what cannot be anticipated can be accepted as a part of the reality of air travel. Here are a few steps you can take to prepare yourself for a calm, mindful, and dare I say enjoyable trip to the airport:
Make space for the expected.
If you are anything like me, I am basically non-functional for the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes of every day. I grumble and glare at those who spring magically out of bed with a smile on their face and fully formed sentences on their lips. Throw in some jet lag and you've got yourself one grumpy lady. It's important to know what makes you feel your best and try to incorporate this into your travel plans. For instance, in 2017 we traveled from Atlanta to London with a 6AM departure. Jet lag is notoriously difficult going from west to east, so I made a plan for the 9 days before our trip. Since London is 4 hours ahead of Atlanta, I started moving my wake-up time and bed time 15 minutes earlier each day. My morning alarm went from 6:15 to 4:15AM. By the time we landed in London, my biological clock was only two hours off kilter instead of four, and I had little to no trouble with a full day of touring the next morning. If you do decide to make a schedule shift like this, make sure you are still getting an adequate amount of sleep each night.
Making space for the expected means anticipating the challenges of air travel and taking some practical steps to ease or eliminate suffering.
Make space for the unexpected.
Now it’s time to focus on the parts of air travel that we cannot control. This is easily the most challenging step though it requires the least amount of physical preparation. In Zen Buddhism, suffering (read as: anxiety over getting stuck in a long line, frustration over having your flight cancelled, anger at a rude customer service agent) originates from the desire for pleasant experiences and the desire to avoid unpleasant sensations like fear. In this case, we may desire to be treated respectfully, to not go hungry, to maintain the comfort that comes with knowing what will happen next, but our internal or emotional reactions to these scenarios will not alter the reality of them in any way. An airport is in constant flux. In fact, it’s the perfect example of impermanence. Departure boards flash new times or cancellations based on seemingly unrelated things – a thunderstorm in Los Angeles, an overbooked flight from San Juan, a power outage in Detroit. In these situations, often the most helpful thing we can do is just to recognize the world as it is (the restaurant with the veggie burger is closed) rather than spend time longing for things to be different (the restaurant with veggie burger is still closed and I am so upset I don’t notice my favorite frozen yogurt shop next door.)
Making space for the unexpected means acknowledging when a travel situation is out of your control and taking the mental and emotional steps necessary to accept it.
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