Checking In, Not Out

Have you ever found it’s easier to give someone else advice than it is to practice that advice yourself? I’ve always felt I was good at doling out bits of wisdom but not always so good at implementing changes in my own life. It’s a lot easier to tell someone else what to do than to take those actions myself when I’m feeling stuck.

When it comes to my own life I can be a master deceiver. My mind can easily override my gut and run circles around my issues with psychobabble. I pride myself on how self-aware I am and yet I have huge blind spots. I want to put the word “issues” in quotes and convince myself I’m wise beyond my years. I want to deny when I’m struggling and gloss over life’s challenges with a positive attitude.

I say all this with loving compassion for myself. I know I’m not alone and I recognize my humanity. I’m imperfect. My challenge is not using this as an excuse. Even now I haven’t quite figured out how to stay gentle with myself and still make hard choices.

And like it or not, change is usually not an easy choice. The content of how that change looks is individual to each of us. It might mean we take a walk instead of eat an extra dessert. It might mean we need to leave a relationship that isn’t healthy or fulfilling us. It might mean we stop smoking or drinking or binge watching. It can mean any multitude of things.

Personally, I’ve found it’s a lot easier to stick to my old patterns and routines of checking OUT rather than change my behavior and start checking IN. I have found that finding motivation or inspiration to make changes that stick isn’t easy. Then, the discomfort of sensing there is an area of my life I’m living that isn’t congruent with my inner being just makes me want to check out more to mask that dis-ease.

I’ve written about this before and I suspect I’ll write about it again. I’ve had periods of finding what seemed to be a solution (read Loving What Is), only to slowly slip back into my old habitual way of thinking, being or doing. It’s almost like I’m wearing a clever mask of disguise to where I don’t see myself doing this until I’m already far from where I started.

It took two weeks of being away from my regular routine for me to wake up again and see through the mask. Now I’m back and I worry I’ll slip right back into the illusion, fool myself into complacency and not make any changes. My life will stay the same and I’ll continue to escape from the discomfort of knowing something needs to change.

After all, it’s only six more days before Game of Thrones returns.

Seriously though, the opportunities to check out are really inviting. Maybe Game of Thrones or binge watching Netflix isn’t your “go to” distraction, but most of us have something that keeps us from facing the areas of our lives which don’t quite feel “right.”

I think we read blogs like this either because they are entertaining, we think they might hold the answer to some conundrum we’re experiencing, or we’re hoping they provide greater clarity in some area of our life. So, if you’ve ever experienced coming to one day and looking at the life you’re living and wondering if it’s really what you want, then maybe you can identify with my journey.

Last May I started planning a trip with my mother. I jokingly tell the story of how when my mother was 70 and wanted to travel together I thought: “well, she may not be around much longer, so I’d better go.” At her invite to travel together again a few years later, I had the same thought: “well, I don’t know how much longer she’s going to be able to travel …” so off we went. My mom recently turned 86 and I now have a life time of having used all of my vacation and savings to travel together because one never knows …

I look back at this experience and have no regrets, only fond memories that will be with me a lifetime. We cruised up the coast of Alaska; made snow angels in Switzerland; stopped in Amsterdam before boarding Norway’s Hurtigruten line, a “working” no-frills cruise ship through the Norwegian fjords to the Arctic Circle; visited the man-made wonder of the world at Machu Picchu, then the natural wonder of the world in the Galapagos; walked in the rain forests of Costa Rica while listening to the howling monkeys; cruised the Mediterranean; made our way up the Elbe River through Germany into Prague; took in the shows on Broadway in NYC; and navigated the underground of London.

To the best of my recollection, the majority of those trips were no more than 10 days. I have never returned feeling disoriented or disassociated with my “real” life.

Until now.

The London trip had actually been a graduation present to two of my nieces, both obtaining their degree around the same time. My sister joined us and the five of us rented a flat in Covent Garden. My mother had the trip planned with a schedule that had us up and out early every day visiting all the major points of interest. It was all wonderful.

The latest trip was an early graduation present for my sisters daughter since this time it was my mother who thought perhaps she wouldn’t be able to travel by the time my niece graduated in three years. We explored some ideas and decided on an 11-day cruise through the Mediterranean leaving from Rome. My sister once again joined us and the four of us flew out Friday, June 16.

I extended my stay after the cruise by a few days and went to Florence by myself, learning from my regret at not having stayed longer to visit Paris when we had been in London. It was my first time abroad on my own and figuring out the trains and cities was empowering and wonderful.

I flew back from Rome on Saturday, July 1, however the leg of my flight from JFK to RDU was cancelled due to bad weather. I was rescheduled for late Sunday night, so I had an unexpected overnight. Rather than sit at the airport all day, I navigated taking the train and subway into NYC for the day. I finally returned home at nearly midnight on Sunday, July 2nd.

I was gone 17 days. And when I returned, I landed smack down into an awareness of dissatisfaction with my life. I didn’t want to be here. I questioned everything and saw how much I had fooled myself into thinking I was happy when the reality was my loving what is had turned into an excuse to check out. I had some hard truths to face and I’m in the midst of looking at those now.

I understand that it’s somewhat natural to have difficulty adjusting after coming back from vacation. After all, I had woken up every morning to amazing scenery, art, culture and beauty. Visit the Vatican museum and Coliseum, explore the walled city of Dubrovnik, take a gondola ride in Venice, discover the beauty of Corfu Greece, walk the ancient ruins of Olympia, swim in the mediterranean, experience the awe of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus … and then come back and do laundry, clean house and return to work.

Who wouldn’t be a little depressed?

The work I so loved which had once felt like being of service suddenly felt like servitude. My life unexpectedly felt meaningless and without direction. I felt isolated and alone and questioned everything. Nothing felt right.

I am slowly getting back into the groove, but I’m no longer as enchanted by the life I have created. That little voice that says this path isn’t the right one for the long term is stronger. And the frustration of not knowing the answers feels enormous.

But this is growth. Deep down, in spite of feeling this uncomfortable dis-satisfaction and dis-ease, I know the experience of having gone and returned was meant to help catapult me into change. I don’t know what that will look like or how quickly it will come, but I do know I am already changed.

I’ve been staying present to my sadness and depression since returning and not seeing all the beauty around me which is there all the time. The sadness and discomfort is real, but so is the beauty. They both coexist on the same plain. I do not deny my sadness by seeing the joy, and I do not deny my joy by honoring my sadness. But if I become so preoccupied with one or the other, I miss out on fully living.

I sat outside and looked at the trees, the leaves, the sky, the clouds. I listened to the birdsong and felt the heat of the sun on my face … and I imagined I was still in Tuscany. I saw how beautiful everything was which moments before had looked boring and drab. Finding the foreign at home is like the old cliché of “stop and smell the roses.” It’s deeper meaning is to slow down and see things new.

Today I choose to check in and not out. Checking in is slowing down and listening to our heart. It is remembering that this cycle of awakening and slumbering / awareness and forgetting is a part of life. It is reassuring ourselves that even when we feel fear or worry or doubt, it is still possible to also feel faith, trust and love.

I do believe whatever path we are on is where we are meant to be, however I also believe we can allow ourselves to stifle the small voice that encourages us to explore and create something different. I think that’s what I had been doing. Loving What Is can be an incredible practice … and so can making a choice for something different.

They coexist on this same plain and it’s time I embrace the totality of both.


As always, thank you for being a part of my journey. I share freely so that I may assist those who can relate to what I’m saying. We are not alone — each connected to one another in our own unique and individual ways, a part of a greater cosmos beyond understanding. I am committed to this connection — to unity, to growth, and to love. This, I know.

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Shannon Crane