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thoughtful Thursday: the art of living

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

—L.P. Jack

life, thoughts

a week of disconnecting and connecting

Before I took a weeklong cruise to Alaska, I had decided to “unplug” for the duration of the trip. For me, this meant no Facebook, no Twitter, no checking email, no reading blogs, or accessing the internet. (I did allow myself to Instagram — but in hindsight, I think I’ll forego that in future unpluggings.) A small challenge for a girl who normally checks these things at least 50 times a day.

I deleted all pathways I could to any sort of connectivity and put my phone in airplane mode (but ha! I certainly checked for signal every now and then!) Once on the trip and on the boat, it became easy to resist the temptation to connect: cell phone signal was hard to come by out at sea and the price for access to wireless internet was more than I felt was reasonable.

For the first day or two of the trip, I found that being without internet and social media was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I felt a subconscious pull to periodically check in to see if there was an interesting status update, an article I “needed” to read, or if I had an unexpected (or even expected) email from a friend. If I had to stop and wait for something (wait for the bus, wait in line for the bathroom, wait for the elevator), I wanted to pull out my phone and distract myself by checking any of my old favorites. But since I deleted everything and wasn’t connected, I didn’t have that option. What to do now?

I had to learn (or relearn) to sit and wait. To be present to what is happening now, instead of tuning out reality. I was really surprised at how much I had trained myself into distraction. How much every moment of my life became either doing or distracting, not just being. Disconnecting forced a pause. And by the third and fourth day, it felt good to pause. Itch withdrawal began to subside. Breathe in, breathe out. I noticed more. I noticed the breeze coming in the port while waiting for our ferry to depart. I noticed the tall pattern our shadows made from the crowd of us waiting to leave for our excursion. I noticed the sweet and patient conversation of a mother explaining to her young child what a glacier is. I noticed the quiet rise and fall of my own breath. I really loved noticing.

I also engaged people more. Smiling at the baby in the seat in front of me. Asking the strangers near me what excursions they had done (or were about to do) that day. Admiring someone’s jacket or haircut. Sharing a joke or a laugh with a fellow line-waiter. I got a chance to exercise my conversation skills and practice listening and relating to others. I felt far more connected to the world.

The absence of the itch helped me feel more peaceful, more present, more focused, and ha! more connected. There was nothing to miss online (FOMO!), I was actually missing everything right in front of me. What else had I missed in my quest for constant so-called connectivity? What was more important, paying attention and connecting in my real life or paying attention and “connecting” to some virtual feed of things?

Returning from the trip I felt a bit anxious about how to bring this new habit of noticing and connecting with me. And to be honest, my ability to curb the itch has waned in the weeks since I’ve been back; it’s far too easy for me to get caught up in digital distraction. But what I learned during my brief period of unplugging has stuck with me. I’ve started to carve out periods of unplugged time throughout my week. When in meetings that don’t require internet access, I’ll put away my devices and commit to being fully present to the person (or people) in front of me. I’m working on focusing more in both work and life. And I think I’ll unplug for longer next time, because I think a week is just the beginning for unweaving the mental threads that bind me in digital connectivity.

life, Think Kit, thoughts

the think kit

We’ve just launched a fun thing over at SmallBox called The Think Kit, which is an inspiration kit in the form of  30 days of prompts that help you reflect on your year and consider what’s next. The Think Kit prompts start today, and the first one is so easy, I couldn’t resist sharing.

Prompt: Have a snapshot that encapsulates your year? Or one that represents a great moment? Maybe it just looks dang cool. Show ‘n tell time — let’s see those pics!

This would be my favorite photo of this year:

It’s not a perfectly composited and shot photo in any sort of professional photography sense (in fact, it’s a little blurry), however, this photo encapsulates so much for me. It was taken in one of my favorite spots in Indianapolis, a place of peace and rejuvenation. It is a visual representation of the spirit and the attitude I have focused on embodying this year: letting things flow like water. Paying attention to that flow and getting to know the feeling better. This photo is a gentle reminder.

Want to participate in Think Kit? Head on over here to get started!

Isabel, life, thoughts

road trip retrospect

A year ago I was one and a half months into this road trip. A year ago I had no idea what seven months ahead would feel like.

I know now.

Now I know I’m capable more of more than I think I am. Now I know I can handle a lot, that I can persevere. Now I know better when I need to push myself, when I need to retreat and give myself space. Now I know the feeling of gratitude for people, complete strangers, who are kind and generous in ways I’d never expect. Now I know this country is full of beautiful and inspiring places, including the place from which I started (you can take that both literally and metaphorically). Now I know the me I am now is no different than the me I was then. That instead, I am a more unfolded version of myself. More attuned to my inner voice, more aware of how to make myself happy and what makes life worth living for me.

And now. If I wasn’t sure before, now I know just how deep Isabel is etched into my heart forever.

For all these things, for this opportunity, for everyone who helped me along the way (that means you), I am deeply, incredibly grateful. And moved. Thank you.


California, food, Napa Valley, thoughts

waking up al fresco

While in Napa Valley, I stayed at a really cute hotel, the Sonoma Creek Inn. One of the things I really liked about this place (aside from the quaint decor and lovely bathroom) was that each of the rooms comes with its own patio. So, at the end of the day I could relax with a glass of wine on said patio and enjoy the mild weather (in February! amazing!). And also: cook dinner. I had my camp stove with me in instances where I wasn’t staying in a place with a stove (i.e. with friends or family), but it requires that you cook with it outside — you know, noxious fumes and such. Here I was able to enjoy a space of my own AND cook dinner for myself. It felt luxurious:


One night I made tacos, another, pasta. This particular night, I made asparagus with some local Sonoma sausage (and a glass of red wine, of course). It was really delicious.


It became perhaps the first time on the trip (and in my life) when I realized I truly am quite content being alone with myself. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy being in the company of friends and loved ones, for sure. I know I am a naturally social person and enjoy companionship. And I always knew I could be alone and enjoy myself. But while in Sonoma I found the place deep within myself where I felt a solid and peaceful appreciation of solitude. As though I really understood it for the first time. It felt like an awakening.