May We Strive to Be Present in the Midst of Transitions

As Andrew and I are taking this month to reflect on our last year and the intentions we set in May of 2014 when we were just beginning our journey towards being Peace Corps Volunteers. This first intention has both served us well, but also proven to be difficult at times to adhere to. Over the past year, we’ve had a lot of transitions. We left our jobs, our homes, our friends, our families. We moved to a foreign place, were at least I didn’t speak the language (and Andrew was a little rusty). It felt that we were in a place of constant transition from last May until perhaps a month or two ago. All of pre-service training, our first few months of integration, and the first weeks of school were times of change and challenge.

So how do you “be present” though any and all of that. What does that even mean?

To me, to live more presently means to be able to focus in on where I am in this moment of life, and spend a little less time worrying about the future, or ruminating on the past. It can be wonderful to think of the countless memories we have with friends and family back in the States – but those same memories can also make us miss home and loved ones that much more. Likewise, it can be exciting to think about our future career paths, grad school, and family, but it can also bring up anxiety about still not knowing what we want to be when we “grow up.”

While this struggle between reminiscing about the “good ole days” and being terrified of a yet unknown and undefined future is very common Peace Corps volunteers, it is also very real for most 20-somethings across the United States and beyond. In Skyping just a few of my good friends in Boston, Claremont, and Perth (Australia) I hear the same questions echoed through their struggles in lives post undergrad. As women in our mid twenties, we’re caught between our degrees, doubts, and our dreams. Between the ideas we grew up with that by this time in life, we’d be real adults with things figured out, and the reality that in many ways we’re still completely and totally clueless. The greater research world calls this phase of life “Emerging Adulthood.”

There was a collection of TED-talks I found a while back, about getting through you’re quarter-life crisis. (Whether you’re a 20-something or not, seriously, check them out! TED-talks are the best!) This crisis might sound like a funny invention to those who grew up in a different generation, but it has less to do with buying a fancy car and more to do with deciding when, or even whether, to buy a home, start a family, start graduate school, etc. These struggles don’t end after the 20s, they’re only beginning, and the new generations are having to deal with these realities and more at even a faster speed than their parents or grandparents. There are so many options, so many ways to do everything, that we can easily get overwhelmed.

A constant in my life when I’ve felt the need for answers has been to seek the wisdom(s) found in books. I’ve always devoured fiction and literature, embracing the morals and ethics to be learned from their stories. While I’d admit that I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter series (in Spanish, though, and it’s so tough!!), I’ve more frequently turned to non-fiction in my twenties to aid in my wrestling with Emerging Adulthood. I haven’t had the time I’d anticipated in Peace Corps to read a ton, but I’ve managed a few gems: The Presence Process – an intensive guide to activity choosing to show up in your life though meditation and living presently; Daring Greatly – Brené Brown’s book on Shame and Vulnerability; to The Guide To Getting Things Done – an organization-lover’s dream guide to getting organized.

Each of these, in their own way, has helped me live a bit more presently this last year. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been worth it.

In some ways, we narrowed it down to a few simple ideas:

  1. Acknowledge whatever we’re feeling in the moment – whether it’s a positive or negative emotion, or somewhere in-between. Maybe we’re feeling super awesome after one of our fantastic Community of Practice, or maybe we’re feeling a bit homesick after hearing about another volunteer’s trip to the US. We’ve realized that pretending the feeling isn’t there doesn’t help at all. We start with acknowledging it, naming it, and just feeling it.
  2. Realize that whatever we’re feeling, is just that – a feeling. It will pass as the moments and circumstances do. One of our trainings during PST reminded us that even if we were in the US, our lives would be full of ups and downs. It’s the same here. Life continues. There are good days and hard days. Sick days and super-awesome-I’m-in-love-with-my-life-here days.
  3. We strive to practice gratitude, reminding each other of the things we’re so incredibly blessed to have.
  4. Try to engage with people as much as we can, especially when our down moments hit. People are always a great root to the present. We feel most alive and at home when we connect with the people here, and this is especially important during times of transition and sadness.

This past week, we both came down with some mystery virus that’s been making the rounds in Estelí, in both the PCVs and the locals. It’s been a rough week and it’s super easy to feel sad and homesick when you’re physically not feeling well. AND we couldn’t really go visit people due to our conditions. Combine that with our internet being spotty and you end up being pretty isolated. All we really could do is wait for the sickness and the sad feelings to pass.

But then we received a phone call from one of my counterparts, Ana Cecilia, and her family. They were worried about us and wanted to check in on how we were doing. After passing the phone around between her family members, receiving advice on a variety of natural and local remedies for stomach bugs, bantering back and forth in rapid Spanish and slang, and hearing their sincere concern and care, I couldn’t help but to feel present, to feel grateful. After all, this is why we’re here – to build bridges between human connections, to make new friends/family, to live and learn from this beautiful culture.

And how incredible that we’ve learned to embrace a little bit of happiness, to be present, even when we’re super sick and stuck in bed. Overall, I think this was an intention well set, and well met.

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